Jan Swafford is a composer, educator, and writer. His previous books include biographies of Ives, Brahms, and Beethoven, as well as The Vintage Guide to Classical Music. They are all well worthy of your attention.

His most recent book is Language of the Spirit: An Introduction to Classical Music. Notice the ordering of those two statements. For Swafford, music is about the spirit, that aspect of ourselves that is unquantifiable, mysterious, and ineffable. It expresses who we are as sentient creatures endowed with consciousness and the ability to recognize beauty; the mystery of the universe and of our very nature is captured best in music. That is, the classical music of the West, about which he says:

Ours is the broadest, most kaleidoscopic musical tradition, with over a...


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