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How Did Beethoven Write Music after He Went Deaf?

Great artists don't let adversity get in their way. Take Ludwig van Beethoven, the iconic German composer who started going deaf in his mid-20s and had lost virtually all hearing by his mid-40s. While one would think that anyone who wants to write music -- especially at Beethoven's level -- would need to hear what he is playing, that didn't stop Beethoven. According to his housekeepers, the composer would hold a pencil in his mouth while he sat at the piano to compose and touch the end of it to the soundboard, letting him feel the vibrations and keep notating. The method apparently worked, as Beethoven continued composing at a fervid rate, penning "Moonlight Sonata," Fidelio --his only opera -- and several symphonies without being able to hear. Of course, this later period wasn't all success, as Beethoven also tried banging as loudly as possible on his piano to hear his music, destroying the instrument in the process. Theories regarding what caused Beethoven's deafness abound, ranging from syphilis to Beethoven's habit of submerging his head in cold water in order to stay awake, but no definitive answer has been uncovered.

All about Beethoven:

  • Beethoven was so well known in his time that when he died in 1827, his headstone bore only a single word: "Beethoven."

  • In addition to hearing loss, Beethoven is also thought to have dealt with other health problems, including rheumatic fever, typhus, ophthalmia, jaundice, colitis, rheumatism, hepatitis, and cirrhosis of the liver.

  • Beethoven had loved Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy" as a child, and finally put it to music in the final movement of his Ninth Symphony.

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