The question of what made Beethoven deaf and blind has been an ongoing mystery for centuries. And the answer is Beethoven was deaf but not blind, and his hearing loss was not inborn. Instead, his hearing declined over the years, starting when he was about 28 years old.
There are many theories on what caused this musician’s unfortunate hearing demise. Throughout this article, we will dive into these possible causations and his life thereafter.
How Did Beethoven Go Deaf?
Some believe this is due to typhus or his habit of dunking his head in cold water to stay alert. Others speculate that it was a form of typhus caused by a rat flea that could leave its victims deaf.
One of the most prevailing theories is lead poisoning. According to an independent analysis, there was an abnormal lead concentration in Beethoven’s hair. Researchers believe this could be linked to Beethoven’s habit of drinking too much, possibly from a lead-coated goblet. He could also have drunk wine that contained lead as a sweetener.
One thing is certain: the exact cause of his hearing loss is unknown. And his auditory nerves were shrunken, and his inner ear had noticeable lesions.
Fun fact: Beethoven also struggled with tinnitus, making it difficult to appreciate his own music. Even hearing someone shout was unbearable, according to his 1801 letter addressed to his physician Franz Wegeler.
While it wasn’t determined that alcoholism was the root of Beethoven’s deafness, it was a factor in his poor health.
Not only is there a dispute about the cause of his condition, but there are also conflicts surrounding his death.
A list of possibilities includes alcoholic cirrhosis, syphilis, infectious hepatitis, lead poising, sarcoidosis, and Whipple’s disease. There is little evidence that he actually suffered from syphilis. However, recent studies indicated that his lead levels were extremely high.
Another theory is that the eighth cranial nerve compression caused his deafness. At the time, this was a clear sign of Paget’s disease of the bone. Other symptoms included enlargement of the head and jaw and a protruding chin.
Fun Fact: A movie called “Immortal Beloved” was made based on Beethoven’s life. This movie suggested that another cause was neurosyphilis and brain trauma. This could have been related to frequent falls and the fall he took that he claimed was out of rage.
Other theories, such as syphilis and otitis media, were later discredited by Rokitansky once all signs pointed to Paget’s disease.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Another uncommon theory of Beethoven’s deafness was Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). His stomach symptoms reportedly began when he was in his teens. IBD can also cover illnesses such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease.
Now, IBD is known to be an issue of immune regulation with extra-intestinal events that can cause hearing loss and PSC. This made sense to the analysts at the time because PSC also causes cirrhosis and failure of the liver, which Beethoven suffered.
Fun fact: In addition to battling multiple illnesses like chronic diarrhea, there are reports that Beethoven also suffered from depression which fueled his alcoholism.
Did Beethoven Ever Go Blind?
No, Ludwig Van Beethoven never went blind. However, other prominent figures, including:
- Stevie Wonder was born blind as he entered the world six weeks early with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). This is an eye disorder resulting from abnormal blood vessels throughout the retina. His condition was likely worsened by receiving too much oxygen in the incubator.
- While Ray Charles was not born blind, he became so at the early age of five. His blindness was believed to be the result of glaucoma. Luckily, his mother was determined and succeeded in finding him a school that would accept a blind African-American student.
- Ronnie Milsap was an American country music singer and pianist whose music is still popular today. Milsap was almost completely blind at birth after his mother abandoned him as a newborn. He was finally placed in a school for the blind when he was five years old.
- Helen Keller was blind due to an unknown illness during her infancy years. Theories range from scarlet fever to meningitis.
When Did Beethoven Lose His Hearing?
As mentioned earlier, Beethoven’s hearing disability progressed over time. It was only near the end of his life that he became entirely deaf. So, when did Beethoven lose his hearing?
He started to lose his hearing around 1798, or when he was 28 years old. This started with tinnitus, a constant ringing sound in the ear without outside stimuli. Today, this condition improves gradually with treatment. However, those living in the 1700s did not have the luxuries available today. In the ensuing decade, or by the time he was 45, he was completely deaf. He had to write notes to his friends, colleagues, and visitors to communicate.
Did Beethoven Compose Music While Deaf?
Yes! Beethoven wrote many of his most famous compositions while he was deaf. Many were astonished that ‘Beethoven, deaf and blind,’ could write such beautiful music. These compositions included:
- Fidelio – This was written while Beethoven was nearing the end of his hearing. He based this on a true story from the French Revolution. He was inspired by the story of a woman whose husband had been imprisoned by his rival. The woman then disguised herself as a man named ‘Fidelio’ and became employed at the prison. Her hope is to help him escape, but can she do it?
- Moonlight Sonata – This composition was written in 1801, shortly after the first symptoms of deafness. He played this sonata with the sustain pedal down, making it a song that modern pianos cannot play.
- Ninth Symphony – Titled “Ode to Joy” was one of the most important classical pieces of history. He had been deaf for nearly a decade when composing this music. Beethoven dedicated this piece to Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia and included themes of freedom and brotherhood.
- Hammerklavier Sonata – Beethoven wrote this piece on his Broadwood piano in 1818. It has been described as his most challenging piano composition. He dedicated this piece to Archduke Rudolf.
- Missa Solemnis – This was written around the same time as his Ninth Symphony. He composed this for the enthronement of Archduke Rudolph and completed it three years after the ceremony.
- Choral Symphony – Written in 1823, this symphony uniquely incorporated many voices and orchestras. Beethoven could not hear the roaring applause, but he could see the audience’s standing ovation as they cheered for him.
How Did Beethoven Make Music if He Was Deaf?
Rumors of what made Beethoven deaf and blind were followed by skepticism of its validity as more music was composed. He lived nearly three decades before his deafness began. This allowed him a lot of time to become acquainted with his piano and orchestras and compose a piece of music like sonatas while suffering from deafness.
Pity, Pity-Too Late!
Above were Beethoven’s last words as he was brought twelve bottles of wine from his publisher. There is still continued speculation as to what made Beethoven deaf and blind.
While he was never blind, he was a deaf musician and one of the greatest in history. And many of his works still circle the world. He is an inspiration that anything is possible no matter what your difficulties may be!