Ludwig Van Beethoven is one of the most important musicians in history, and it’s hard not to know his name or recognizing some of his work as something “familiar” but few people really get into how he did the things he did, and why did he become so famous and such an important part of history.
A lot of this can be answered through his composition and the fact that he became deaf in his later years, which did not affect his work, in fact it made his work even more popular because he was able to overcome his hearing problem.
It is important to know that he was not born deaf, it was a condition which slowly became more and more present, and in his last works, he lost his hearing.
Before that he was a composer who admired great musicians like Mozart, Bach, and Haydn, however he wished to do his own thing, and try new things.
Haydn was his teacher when Beethoven was in his 20s and became a magnificent pianist, something that would evolve in the next decade into piano concertos and symphonies.
A Bad Buzz
In his late 20s however a buzz began to appear as a sign of his hearing loss.
At the age of 30, he wrote to a friend:
“For the last three years my hearing has grown steadily weaker. I can give you some idea of this peculiar deafness when I must tell you that in the theatre I have to get very close to the orchestra to understand the performers, and that from a distance I do not hear the high notes of the instruments and the singers’ voices… Sometimes too I hardly hear people who speak softly. The sound I can hear it is true, but not the words. And yet if anyone shouts I can’t bear it.”
“For two years I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it is impossible for me to say to people ‘I am deaf’,”
“If I belonged to any other profession it would be easier, but in my profession it is a frightful state”.
There were three things that helped Beethoven compose as his hearing got worse. One was a simple trick which consisted in putting a pencil in his mouth as it touched the instrument in order to feel the vibration while he played. The other was an ear trumpet which helped collecting sound waves and of course was his imagination.
Every musician is able to play the instruments inside their heads, and that is how composition actually work in the first stages of creations. Beethoven however, relied heavily on this since his hearing was no longer an accurate way of perceiving sound. At first he struggled to listen to higher frequencies so he started using lower notes, but in the end as his condition got worse, he embraced this other way of making music and began using high notes again.
We must remember that Beethoven is not a great musician just because he was a deaf musician, he was always a dedicated artist who worked for doing something great at a young age.
When a musician is driven by the kind of determination that Beethoven had, nothing can stop it, not even the inability to experience sound which is the core of music.