Ludwig van Beethoven was born 1770 in Bonn Germany, to Maria Magdalena Keverich and Johann van Beethoven. At a young age, Beethoven displayed great talent for music while under the tutorage of his father and Christian Gottlob Neefe. During his younger years Beethoven befriended Joseph Haydn, and intended to study under Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but instead moved, in 1792, from Bonn to Vienna to study under Haydn. Beethoven quickly rose in reputation as a virtuoso pianist.Around 1796 Beethoven’s hearing began to deteriorate, he suffered from tinnitus, a ringing or noise in the ear, proving to be a symptom of an underlying condition. From April to October 1802, Beethoven lived just outside of Vienna, on the advice of his doctor, it was there that he tried to come to terms with his impediments and even wrote to his brother of suicide but also records his resolution to persevere through his art. Carl Czerny, Beethoven’s student, remarked that although Beethoven appeared to be experiencing extreme difficulty, he could hear speech and music quite well until 1812.Although the loss of hearing did not prevent Beethoven from composing music, it did however make performing at concerts extremely difficult. In 1811, he failed in the attempt to perform his own Piano Concerto No 5 – the Emperor, which would instead be premiered by Czerny. Beethoven would not perform in public again until 1824, where he would conduct the premier of his Ninth Symphony. In 1814 Beethoven had become almost completely deaf, the ability to hear higher frequencies being the first to go. By the 1824 performance, his hearing loss became so severe that he had to turn around to see the applause of the audience, because he could neither hear the riotous applause or the orchestra performing it. A few years later, on March 26, 1827, Beethoven died.
Beethoven did not let hearing loss prevent him from doing what he loved, instead it caused him to look within, finding solace and strength in religion, and by that, influencing the music that he composed. In the last ten years of his life, Beethoven used conversation books where his friends would write down what they were saying, to which he would write his response down or reply verbally. These books not only reflected his paradigm on music but how he intended his music to be performed.
There has been much debate over how Beethoven became deaf, some research has attributed it to typhus, an autoimmune disorder and has even been linked to him plunging his head in cold water to stay awake. After his death, the autopsy performed showed a “distended inner ear” that developed lesions, which could be an Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease (AIED), a rare disorder where the immune system attacks a part of the body, in this case the inner ear and can result in rapid hearing loss.
The exact reason for his hearing loss is unclear; however, there is record that Beethoven wrote to friends describing his symptoms and how it impacted his professional and personal life. What we can be certain of, is that Beethoven, a composer and virtuoso pianist, operating under a debilitating condition, did not prevent him from composing some of the greatest music in history.
Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 in D Minor is the final complete symphony by Beethoven and is considered to be one of the best known Classical works, and is the most played symphonies in the world; moreover, it is widely acknowledge to be the greatest piece of music ever written.