Beethoven was born into an abusive family, led by an ill-tempered, alcoholic, syphilitic father. As a young man (1792-1800) Ludwig van Beethoven became a celebrated piano virtuoso in Europe’s most musical city, Vienna.
Beethoven was a brilliant composer, but he was tormented by increasing deafness beginning at the age of 36. In his will of 1802, Beethoven articulated his love and dread of society in his state. He was only prevented from taking his own life by the thought of his music. We get a glimpse of his agony from a letter he wrote in Heilingenstadt on October of that year, at the apex of his grief over his increasing deafness:
“ [T]hus do I take my farewell of thee – and indeed sadly – yes, that beloved hope – which I brought with me when I came here to be cured at least in a degree – I must wholly abandon, as the leave of Autumn fall and are withered so hope has been blighted, almost as I came – I go away – even the high courage – which often inspired me in the beautiful days – has disappeared – O Providence – grant me last but one day of pure joy – it is so long since real joy echoed in my heart – O when – O when --, O Divine One – shall I feel it again in the temple of nature or of men – Never? No – O that would be too hard.”
What internal struggle and torments befell this deaf composer? We can only imagine!
His crowning achievement was his 9th symphony. Most people are aware that he was profoundly deaf when he wrote it. Fewer people are aware that Beethoven was going deaf when he wrote his 1st symphony. When he started his 1st symphony in 1797, his deafness was detectable. By the time he finished it his deafness had become serious—so serious his physician sent him out of the country for therapy … to no avail. All 9 symphonies were written in partial or complete deafness! His mind was so muscular.
It’s doubtful he heard much of his 5th symphony, or his Pastoral Symphony #6. His beloved Moonlight Sonata was written between 1803-1804, in serious deafness. The same applies to his overtures, concertos, music for string quartets, His Fantasia for Piano-chorus and orchestra, his opera Fidelio. Creatures of Prometheus was written in silence.
If Ludwig van Beethoven lived today, would modern advocates of assisted suicide might assist him at his lowest point? How much poorer we would be without his vast contribution to the world’s treasury of music.
The human community must always endeavor to encourage all people to bring their contributions to the table, not abandon people to despair. We must lift people from sinking beneath the waves of circumstances.
We have an obligation to them and they have an obligation to the treasury of humanity's common good.
 Peter Latham, “Ludwig Van Beethoven” in The Music Masters: From the sixteenth Century to the Time of Beethoven, ed. A.L. Bacharach (London: Pelican Books, 1957), I, p.69
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