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Was Beethoven Really Deaf?


Ludvig Van Beethoven is one of the most well known composers in history, and regardless of musical knowledge, it would be hard to find a person who hasn’t heard of the famous pianist. He was influential in the classical and romantic eras of classical music and created many works including concertos, symphonies, and one Opera called Fidelio.

One of the most widely known facts about Beethoven is that he was deaf. This raises a lot of questions. How could a deaf person possibly create such beautiful, intricate compositions? To what degree was he deaf, fully or partially? One may even go as far as asking:

Was Beethoven Really Deaf?

Born in 1770 in Bonn, Germany, Ludvig Van Beethoven was considered a musical prodigy from an early age, performing public concerts as young as the age of seven. Beethoven was taught by his father, Johann Van Beethoven, who was also a talented pianist. He was taught composition by German composer Christian Gottlob Neefe, and practiced scores from other famous composers such as Bach and Mozart. Beethoven had composed and published his own pieces by 1791 and began performing his works publically in Vienna in 1795.

How did Beethoven achieve all of these incredible things while deaf?

While there is no documented medical evidence of Beethoven’s hearing ability prior to his physician’s report in 1801, it is assumed that Beethoven had reasonably good hearing during his younger years. Beethoven wrote in letters around 1796 that he had begun to hear strange buzzing noises in his ears. By 1801 it was recorded that Beethoven had been slowly becoming deaf over the previous three years. Beethoven reported being unable to hear soft voices or high notes from singers and difficulty understanding the orchestra from far away.
Beethoven early Life

Beethoven sought medical advice and treatment over the next several years to no avail, and eventually accepted there was no possible cure for his inevitable deafness. He still continued to compose music for the remainder of his life.
Beethoven’s musical career is split into three periods, all of which reflect the gradual decline of his hearing, and his musical work differs according to his hearing ability.

Early Period

The early period of Ludvig’s career ranged from his childhood to around 1803. Beethoven had most of his hearing during this time, and composed many pieces including several string quartets, sonatas such as the well-known “Moonlight Sonata”, and his First and Second Symphonies, most of which were characterized by higher notes.

Middle Period

Beethoven’s musical style began to transform as his hearing loss became more severe. Beethoven felt dissatisfied with his previous work and desired to make a change, so he began composing grand pieces, which were longer than his previous works and larger in scale. Many of the notes Beethoven used in his compositions were on the lower scale as he became less able to hear the higher notes. While some of his pieces during this period were misunderstood, they are widely seen as some of his greatest masterpieces. His works included his Third Symphony, Eroica, as well as his Fourth through Eighth Symphonies, the Opera, Fidelio, and several string quartets and sonatas.

The middle period of Beethoven’s career, also known as the “heroic” period ended around 1820, when Beethoven had become mostly deaf.

Late Period

Was Beethoven Really Deaf?

Beethoven continued to compose throughout his life, but he stopped performing and conducting publically. Still, some of his greatest works were created during the last fifteen years of Beethoven’s life. Strangely, Beethoven reverted to using high notes in his pieces, as through his many years of composing he had begun to use his inner ear to perceive the way the notes would sound. One of his most famous compositions during this time was the overture known as The Consecration of the House, as well as his last two sonatas and his last two string quartets, including his Ninth Symphony.

Beethoven died in 1827 at the age of 56. While there is speculation about what actually caused Beethoven’s loss of hearing, the autopsy report conducted after his death showed that his auditory nerves were severely dilated. Even with Beethoven’s hearing impairment, this musical genius could not be stopped from composing and performing masterpieces during all stages of his life, which are still admired today.