During the year 1798, when the composer Beethoven was 28 years old, a horrible fate befell him.
Beethoven noticed that he was struggling to hear. It affected his ability to converse with others, and even worse, the ability to listen to his beloved music.
As he wandered in nature and spent many hours alone, Beethoven pondered how he was going to cope with his worst nightmare. Would his musical career as he knew it, as performer, conductor and composer by finished forever? Could he. Ever compose again without hearing the music? How could he conduct if he could not hear the musicians; and what about playing the piano, where notes are lost to his ear.
As he pondered these things, his despair became tremendous, and he decided there was only one option left. Since he could no longer pursue the one romance of his life – that being music, he would end his sorrow and suffering for good.
So began the writing of his last will, where Beethoven poured out his heart and soul; The grief, the sorrow, and anger and the agony of losing the dearest thing in his life. The fears of how he was going to cope with this dreaded deafness. As he wrote, he wept bitterly and realised his life would never be the same again.
But as he wrote, he realised that the music was deep within. It meant so much to him; he couldn’t leave this world having not spoken the utterances of his musical imagination. That, and the fact that he had his nephew to look out for, and he knew he had to somehow stay the course no matter what. So began the search to deal with his new friend, deafness.
Beethoven sought medical attention; many doctors later and no cure was found. They tried many things from ear drops to other medications, but nothing worked.
Since Beethoven could not find a medical cure, he turned to make his life easier, despite his deteriorating condition. He made sound trumpets, which would enable him to hear a little of what people said; he also started carrying around conversation booklets where people would write their replies and comments, thereby enabling Beethoven to continue to consume his coffee and network with others.
His piano was also modified, adding extra strings and a heavier frame to make the sound louder. Often his ear would be near the piano as he hammered away at his latest compositions.
Throughout the years, Beethoven adapted to his deafness. Musically, the most crucial way for Beethoven to realise his musical genius was to spend hours alone, sketching and re-working his compositions. Hundreds of books were filled with themes, notations and sketches as Beethoven tried to express himself.
Despite his deafness, the music flowed through his head, and he could hear them in his imagination as he worked.
During the decades after his deafness, Beethoven wrote many works – piano sonatas, chamber music and symphonies. Then in 1722, he penned the Symphony number nine – a large scale synphonic work scored for full symphonic orchestra, chorus and soloists.
The Symphonic work was created when Beethoven was almost completely deaf and is probably his most profound work ever written. This symphony sums up all the emotional and physical resources he had developed over the last decades.
The work is scored for a full symphony orchestra, with chorus and soloists added in the fourth movement. This was almost unheard of further the classical era. Many composers followed Beethoven ideas after his death, including Mahler, who also write his choral synphony for orchestra, chorus and soloists.
Along with the unusual scoring of the work, Each movement expresses every emotion known to man – from deep sorrow and grief, thought-provoking ponderings and ending with ecstatic joy. The piece starts off with the whispers of his thoughts and gradually building his emotional pallet during each movement, until the final fourth movement, where he brings together not only the orchestra itself but chorus and soloists; a signal that all humanity was to partake in this great joy and freedom.
The ninth Symphony signifies renewed hope and freedom to all; that no matter what happens in your life, there is hope. Emotions are to be expressed and dealt with, and once you have dealt with your life situation – much like Beethoven’s deafness, you can find joy in it.
Are you in a similar situation to the great Beethoven? Do you face obstacles in your life? As you listen to this symphony, performed by the London Symphony orchestra, think of how that 28-year-old Beethoven would feel.