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Beethoven: How the ‘Deaf Genius’ composed music?

Directing an orchestra that one can hear or playing the piano for the audience sounds pretty easy for the professional of that field but, what if you can’t hear any symphonies made by you?.

One of the biggest classical composers of music Ludwig van Beethoven struggled with deafness but still managed to compose music.

Beethoven even led music shows and directed the whole orchestra by himself but it is not easy as it sounds.

During the 1800s when the struggle with deafness was not understood by many people, he managed to communicate with his music.

 “How he dealt with his deafness is one of the great stories of humanity, not just of music,” said music director Donato Cabrera.

WHO WAS BEETHOVEN?

Ludwig van Beethoven who is usually known as “Beethoven” was a German composer and pianist. His works rank amongst the most performed plays from the classical period to the romantic era of classical music.

Beethoven was born in Bonn and his talent for music was obvious at an early age, he was intensively taught by his father Johann van Beethoven.

About his life

 At the age of 21, he moved to Vienna and studied composition with Haydn. Beethoven’s first major orchestral work, the First Symphony appeared in 1800, and his first set of string quartets was published in 1801.

His hearing was deteriorating during this period but he still continued to compose his Third and Fifth Symphonies in 1804 and 1808.

 He was completely deaf by 1814 and stopped appearing publicly.

Even after being completely less socially involved, he composed many of his admired works including his later symphonies and his chamber music and piano sonatas.

How Beethoven composed Music after losing his hearing ability?

Beethoven began losing his hearing ability in his mid-20s, and he already had built a reputation as a musician and composer.

However, his condition and struggle were very noticeable. Louis Spohr, a music composer reacted to watching Beethoven rehearse on the piano in 1814 and said “the music was unintelligible unless one could look into the pianoforte part.

I was deeply saddened at such a hard fate”.

When he completely lost his hearing at the age of 45, he lost his public life with it. He allowed only selected people to visit and communicated by writing his thoughts in a notebook.

Beethoven’s style of composing changed after he became deaf, his tones became darker and it was seemingly obvious. One of the examples can be his Sixth Symphony which he made after losing his hearing and was known as “Pastoral Symphony.”

Beethoven was experienced in music for the first three decades of his life and that made him aware of how different musical instruments sound and work together.

He was able to imagine in his mind what his music would sound like as his deafness was slow and not a sudden loss of hearing.

He used to use ear trumpets to compose piano music and also used a wooden stick between his teeth to feel the vibrations while playing. What he heard in his head he wrote down on staff paper.

In his early compositions, he made use of higher notes but as he became deaf, he began to use lower notes that he was able to recognize clearly with his little bit of hearing capacity.

Beethoven continued performing and insisted on a premiere of his Ninth Symphony as well. However, the orchestra hired another conductor to stand alongside him.

“I think Beethoven would have pushed the boundaries anyway. I think it was that time in musical history where things were going to change anyway.

So I think it would have happened, but whether he would have written the music that he wrote, obviously, no one can tell,” said another deaf musician Evelyn Glennie in her interview with CPR Classical.

Theodore Albrecht, the professor of musicology at Kent State University, Ohio, believed that Beethoven suffered from severe deterioration in his hearing but did not completely lose it.

Albrecht stated, “Not only was Beethoven not completely deaf at the premiere of his ninth symphony in May 1824, but he could also hear, although increasingly faintly, for at least two years afterward, probably through the last premiere that he would supervise, his String Quartet in B-flat, Op 130, in march 1826”.

Beethoven was known as ‘Deaf’ genius and “was able to hear his symphony after all,” said Albrecht but, he also added that evidence proving Beethoven could still hear “doesn’t take away from the fact that this man did what he did in the face overwhelming difficulty”.

Beethoven wrote in a letter written in May of 1810 “How delighted I shall be to ramble for a while through bushes, woods, under trees, through grass, and around rocks”.

This with his other compositions from his soundless years proves how he was a “Deaf Genius” indeed and reflects his knowledge of composition.

He proved that the language of music is about the creation of sound and not about listening or any other disability.

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