Beethoven's deafness

May 23, 2006 at 12:14 AM · Beethoven's deafness can be either helped with hearing aids or partially cured with implants now. If you could go back in time to "cure" beethoven's hearing loss, let's say roughly around his Fifth Symphony, would you do it or not, and why.

Replies (24)

May 23, 2006 at 12:33 AM · I don't think the late string quartets would be the same. So, no.

Now I feel like a selfish heel.

May 23, 2006 at 12:48 AM · Greetings,

Sir Michael Tippet once told me that he thought Beethoven`s deafness was psychosomatic and that he needed to be that way to write his music. Probably another nutter,



May 23, 2006 at 01:33 AM · In Maynard Solomon's book he says that after Beethoven's death a surgeon cut into Beethoven's inner ear and saw that fibers in his ears were frayed off (deteriorated). I'm not exactally sure what this is, but apparently it's what caused Beethoven's deafness and also made it possible for Beethoven to hear loud sounds as late as 1825.

May 23, 2006 at 02:53 PM · I think Beethoven had a curable (now) problem. In my case, 36 years of flying jets damaged the small hairs in the inner ear resulting in mid and high frequency losses. I think Beethoven's was similar, but my ear quack says Beethoven's hearing would have been restored with a Cochlerar implant. But, would the Pastorale and the Ninth been the same?

May 23, 2006 at 02:24 AM · I think Beethoven could hear in his head what he was writing. Afterall, he had perfect pitch, and he was a genius. I think his revolutionary style was part of his personality. I mean, he could still hear pretty well when he composed the Eroica symphony. Maybe Beethoven would have composed more music during the period where he was battling his sister-in-law in court for custody of his nephew, Karl. Maybe, without his deafness, this series of events never would have happened and he would have time to compose. Who knows.

May 23, 2006 at 03:04 AM · If there would be any chance at all of losing the late quartets, I wouldn't do it.

May 23, 2006 at 03:15 AM · Hey maura, nice to see another Okie on this site. Have you heard any news about the new Tulsa Symphony?

May 23, 2006 at 03:48 AM · Why would you want to change something that great?

May 23, 2006 at 02:11 PM · I heard a wonderful story - Supposedly when he went deaf, he would "hear" the vibrations of the piano by placing a wooden rod between his two front teeth and placing it on the piano strings.

May 23, 2006 at 02:26 PM · A modern day example of an extradordinary artist is Evelyn Glennie. She's deaf and feels the vibrations through her feet and body as she performs.

As for Beethoven, it's selfish to say so but I agree that his music after he started to go deaf changed and it's some of my most loved music of that era so I would not want him to have had his hearing.

By the way, you don't have to have perfect pitch to hear something in your head and write it down. I don't have perfect pitch but seem to be capable of scoring things and having them turn out how I heard them in my head. It's more of a "practice" thing than anything and being able to relate intervals and with one another, not the ability to go "oh that should be an A there with a B flat leading to a C" etc.

May 23, 2006 at 03:32 PM · Hey Marty,

No idea about the TSO, I play in Signature and we're all a bit worried. Personell is shifting around like mad, I think we may be in a bit of a squeeze next season. But then again, TSO never held auditions, never announced their season, I don't even know who's the conductor. It is positively bizarre.

May 23, 2006 at 04:07 PM · Beethoven suffered from otho schlerosis which is a disease that causes the three small bones in the inner ear to schrink and thereby not to be able to conduct sound from the outer ear the the inner. It's curable today with a small surgery.

It did meen however that Beethoven could hear the piano by putting a wood stick between it an his heed thereby using the scull to transmit the sound to the inner ear. We know this from contempory accounts.

May 23, 2006 at 07:54 PM · Of course, if I had that magic wand, I'd see to it that Beethoven would be cured of his deafness. And I'm not so sure that it would appreciably alter his later works that much. As has been pointed out, he heard everything in his head, anyway. And also, he really wasn't completely deaf until the last several years (I think). But even if his later works might have been altered, there is no reason to think that they would have been any less great.


May 23, 2006 at 09:03 PM · If I had the ability to set the practical laws of physics aside in order to make the journey and the medical expertise to have some affect, I'd leave Beethoven in his silent world for now, and go save Schubert first.

May 23, 2006 at 09:15 PM · Hey, good idea. Let's save a few more - Mozart, Purcell, Gershwin, Hassid, Rabin, Neveu, Barere. In fact, even though Paganini lived a comparatively long life for his era, the most famous, active part of his career was rather brief, mostly due to illness.

On the other hand, could all of these famous composers and musicians have afforded health insurance? Maybe they could have been on Medicare (or Musicare).

May 23, 2006 at 09:22 PM · If I had a flying delorean I would go back in time to see Paganini play, and also take some antibiotics with me, the poor guy was in a bit of a state for most of his life.

May 23, 2006 at 10:10 PM · Too many of you sorry suckers would leave the old boy deaf.

May 24, 2006 at 01:29 AM · Here hear, Jim.

May 24, 2006 at 01:57 AM · This question reminds me of Star Trek and some of the shows about traveling to the past. I don't think I would cure it because it could change the music that we have all come to love that he wrote. His deafness (IMO) is why you can feel those pieces "in your bones".

May 24, 2006 at 02:03 AM · Mendy,

I love those time-travel episodes. :)


May 24, 2006 at 07:19 PM · Mendy, Beethoven was tortured by his hearing loss and was suicidal over it. I'd cure him (or you) in a moment if I could, regardless of his (or your) creative output. The question is in one sense ridiculous but it sure helps to see where romantic notions of art and creativity trump humanity and our fundamental purpose as human beings to relieve suffering. If your child went blind and, as a result, compensated for it by developing some skill that was of value, would you then deny your child his or her sight? If the answer is yes, please contact Planned Parenthood. I think they even have music in their waiting rooms...

May 24, 2006 at 08:20 PM · I feel that I need to defend Mendy, or at lesat the sentiment since I shared it.

Perhaps our response to deny Beethoven a cure was a bit flip because the premise is a bit fantastic, but I also question this idea that "curing" some disability is always to be desired and that a disability equals suffering.

"If your child went blind and, as a result, compensated for it by developing some skill that was of value, would you then deny your child his or her sight?"

Well, I would ask my child what he or she desired. If Beethoven would want to have his hearing restored then, by all means, he should. But afflictions and disabilities makes us who we are and some of us might like ourselves fine that way. I lost my right arm when I was eight from a rattlesnake bite and that event and all that followed made me who I am, and I wouldn't change those events if I could.

Alan, your answer as it applies to Beethoven might be right on; but more generally, it reminds me of these two little old ladies, religious tracts in hand, who I encountered one day. They told me to pray to Jesus and I'd have my hand restored. It took a lot of self-restraint not to cuss them out.

We are who we are, for better or worse, and more often than not that's not such a terrible thing.

May 24, 2006 at 08:55 PM · Well put.

May 25, 2006 at 02:08 AM · Alan - I'd suggest taking a chill pill. We stock them at work (ok, they are mints, but the sentiment is still there). :) Which reminds me, it is my turn to re-stock them.

Peter - You put the point on the pin! It is always the patient's right to accept or refuse treatment... in fact it is law at least in this country. Deny treatement when asked - NEVER, impose treatement without consent - same answer.

I don't want a huge philosophical debated over this.

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