Beethoven Question

Oops. This probably should be moved to Cafe Society…

I’ve read previously that Beethoven composed some his best work after he had lost his hearing. Whether he was totally deaf, or just partially deaf, it’s still amazing to me that someone could compose music without being able to hear it. He could presumably ‘hear’ the music in his head, but that’s sort of like an artist being able to paint after losing their eyesight.

Any there examples of other composers who continued to successfully write music after they had gone deaf, or is what Beethoven did somewhat unique?

I’m not sure Beethoven was completely deaf. In any case, once you get used to writing music out, which does not involve hearing it, the loss of hearing seems to be of little importance.

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Moving from General Questions to Cafe Society.

Beethoven was by far the most well known, but there have been others.

Here’s a list of 5 more from Mental Floss:


Wikipedia’s category for deaf classical musicians:

Wikipedia’s category for deaf musicians:

Thanks e_c_g… ignorance fought

It really isn’t as surprising that Beethoven could compose while deaf as it may seem. Composers back then wrote complicated music as fast as we would post to the dope. They didn’t need to sit at a keyboard to fiddle around prior to setting things down. Even today, I’ve known numerous composition professors and even university students who could just write music down from their head. We’ll never know, but I have no doubt Bach (all of them), Mozart, Haydn, etc. could have done the same thing.

In Japan, a Beloved Deaf Composer Appears to Be None of the Above
ETA: SerenDipity[sup]TM[/sup]

I suspect it’s more common than you might think for classical composers to do a lot of their composing in their minds and/or on paper, without a lot of dependence on trying things out to see how they sound. (Upon preview, I see D18 confirms this.) A closer analogy might be a blind sculptor rather than a blind painter.

Unfortunately, that article doesn’t specify whether those composers continued to compose after they went deaf. Bedrich [del]Smegma[/del] Semtana, at least, did.

His “autobiographical” String Quartet #1 (“From My Life”) contains a potentially creepy moment (at about 3:30 in this version) when the violin plays a high-pitched note representing the tinnitus that was his first sign of hearing loss.

Beethoven didn’t entirely write the music out of his head. He would hold a long reed in his teeth and hold it against his piano. He could tell from the vibrations whether the written music accurately represented what he intended others to hear.

He was groundbreaking in many technical aspects, so much so that musicians often found it difficult to perform his later works.

Smetana. His name was Smetana (“sour cream”). :slight_smile:

Some of you will remember Karl Haas and his radio show, “Adventures In Good Music.” One of his best episodes was entitled “The Din if Inequity,” and dealt with musical scores that are badly balanced.

One of his examples was the four part chorale in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, where the four soloists mix it up. Beethoven seems to have been unaware that the Soprano knocks the other four wrestlers right out of the ring!

Haas said that many performances nowadays have the Soprano actually a step or two behind the others, to help balance, a little, the sonic domination she otherwise enjoys. Haas’ argument was that Beethoven would never have made such a blunder if he could have heard what he was composing.

^Indeed, I’ve often thought that if LvB could have actually heard the 9th, he would have said something like, “Ach, Scheiss! This should be in h”

(The 9th is in D and the sopranos in the choir sometimes have to resort to screeching to sing the highest notes. I think they sounded better in LvB’s head than in real life. Dropping it down by a third would have been a good thing for audience and singer, alike.)

(In German music theory, the key of B is h (B natural) - as opposed to b (b-flat).)

Huh? Cite? That’s absurd on the face of it.

Unless I was just whooshed.

This site says it was a pencil; years ago, I heard it was a reed. Ultimately, he had to rest his teeth directly on the piano:

He also owned legless pianos, so he could sit on the floor and feel their vibrations that way:

Well, not a reed, but a rod attached to the piano. Here’s a cite that explains how it worked.

Some interesting photos:

Evelyn Glennie

Note Straight Dope Staff Report:

Based on the biographies I read, the musicians were strictly ordered not to pay any attention to what Beethoven was doing.
Perhaps the story comes from a real event. When Beethoven had finally lost his hearing, he did try to conduct one more time. He would crouch when the music got softer and leap to his feet when it got louder. However he had no clue as to where the musicians were, and did this at wildly inappropriate times. (I think it might have been during a piano concert, but I’d have to look it up.) He never conducted again.

BTW, the movie “Copying Beethoven” has it wrong. The heroine, a woman assigned to make copies of the Ninth (unbelievably) crouches on the floor cuing Beethoven on the tempo as Beethoven conducts. She is also the one to turn him around. So even classy movies are sometimes full of it.

Do you have a better cite than these - especially since the last one got the conducting the Ninth wrong? I’ve recently reread Maynard Solomon’s biography, and he never mentions the vibrating piano. At this point Beethoven was perfectly capable of hearing the music in his head. In fact, Solomon speculates that innovative work like the later string quartets were possible because Beethoven was no longer directly tied to sound.