Perhaps the most tragic part of Ludwig van Beethoven’s story is how the German composer who produced some of the world’s most enduring classical scores went deaf. But beyond this unexplainable quirk of fate, what else do you know about the man? Here are 5 things.
- No One Knows Why Beethoven Lost His Hearing
Beethoven often remarked that the gods were playing a cruel trick on him. One could hardly blame one of the most famous composers in the world for thinking he was struck down with deafness.
At age 27, he started to hear a constant whirring, and it didn’t stop. Historical records reveal that the maestro himself thought the buzzing in his ears were the result of a fall. But historians believe it was probably the result of a disease he had suffered in childbirth like typhus, syphilis, or smallpox. Back then, mercury was used as a treatment for some illnesses, and prolonged use was thought to be harmful.
Come 1990s, a group of American fans bid for a lock of his hair at an auction. They wanted to send it for testing to determine his cause of deafness. Alas, no indication of mercury use had been found.
- He Made His Most Famous Piece After Turning Deaf
Long after Beethoven was deaf, he produced what’s now known as ‘The Ninth Symphony’, or what’s believed to be his most critically-acclaimed piece of work. Historians reveal how poignant the entire episode was, especially when the deaf composer directed the symphony.
The year was 1824 in Vienna when Beethoven took to the stand to conduct the symphony. Records show that the players had been instructed not to pay him any attention. That’s because he could not hear most of the symphony, neither could he sense the applause of the audience after the performance ended.
It was only until a soloist gestured to Beethoven to face the audience, did he see their applause. The crowd then responded by clapping more vigourously to express their appreciation.
- His Dying Words Are a Mystery
Until today, the meaning of the German composer’s final words remain a mystery. Some say that he said ‘Pity, pity, too late’, others say he remarked, ‘applaud my friends, the comedy is over’.
Yet others state he expressed the hope of hearing in heaven.
Beethoven died relatively young, at 56 in 1827 from liver failure, an age considered young even for the standard of his times.
But historians say it would have been a surprise if he had lived to an old age.
The hit melody maker was afflicted by countless maladies throughout his life. Colitis, rheumatic fever, typhus and skin disorders were just few of what he had suffered.
- He Was an Extremely Fussy Man
The legendary composer was a coffee addict, biographers say.
His morning ritual would be a cup of coffee made with precisely 60 coffee beans.
Some speculate that Beethoven got his obsessive tendencies at a young age, when his father instilled strict discipline and reward patterns for his behaviour.
- Mozart Believed Beethoven Would Make History
‘Mark that young man; he will make himself a name in the world!’ – Mozart
Historians believe that was legendary composer Mozart’s remark after watching Beethoven perform in 1787.
19th-century biographer Otto Jahn recorded the episode:
‘Beethoven made his appearance in Vienna as a youthful musician of promise in the spring of 1787, but was only able to remain there a short time; he was introduced to Mozart, and played to him at his request. Mozart, considering the piece he performed to be a studied show-piece, was somewhat cold in his expressions of admiration. Beethoven, noticing this, begged for a theme for improvisation, and, inspired by the presence of the master he revered so highly, played in such a manner as gradually to engross Mozart’s whole attention.’
The former was greatly influenced by Mozart, and often copied Mozart’s compositions in the draft stages of his own creation.