One of the less successful features of Beethoven's Hair was the biographical stuff on the great composer. The idea of studding the book with vignettes of his life at key moments was not inherently misplaced, but Martin never really rose to the occasion in any of the sections. I found them interesting but kept thinking that I sort of knew all this, even though I'm no expert on Ludwig Van. It all felt a bit second hand without the moments of insight that might have brought it all to life. The guy suffered monstrously and marvellously rose above it, at a height that seems to leave mere mortals behind, but this is not exactly news.
But I did feel keen to follow up on the composer's life, and here's the weird thing. In the middle of reading the book I went to Kinokuniya to cash in some randomly acquired book tokens (getting hold of Dostoevsky's The Idiot in the process, which I've been reading with huge enthusiasm for the last few days.) In the bookstore I came across a hardback of a recently published Beethoven biography by none other than Jan Swafford. Now that name might not mean a lot to you, but boy was I excited. Swafford is the writer of the best musical biography I've ever read. His book on Charles Ives is as good as it gets, and the thought that he's written on Beethoven sets me all a flutter, I can tell you. As soon as this comes out in paperback it's going to be mine!
(Bit of a weak confession here. Swafford has also written a very well received biography of Brahms which I've always intended to get hold of and never have. I can't really account for my reluctance except to say that Brahms has never gripped me. Stupid of me. I've got a feeling that if I read Swafford on him I'd become a fan, he really writes that well.)
(And another odd thing. When I wrote the bit above saying The guy suffered monstrously it came out as The gut suffered monstrously due to a misplaced digit. And of course Beethoven's gut did suffer in that fashion; or at least, he suffered as a result of it. Spooky.)