Beethoven's career as a virtuoso pianist was brought to an end when he began to experience his first symptoms of deafness.
Apparently Beethoven had been aware of the problem for about three years, avoiding company lest his weakness be discovered, and retreating into himself.
Friends ascribed his reserve to preoccupation and absent-mindedness.
Many men would have been driven to suicide; Beethoven may indeed have contemplated it. Yet his stubborn nature strengthened him and he came to terms with his deafness in a dynamic, constructive way.
Beethoven saw his deafness as a challenge to be fought and overcome.
With the end of his career as a virtuoso pianist inevitable, he plunged into composing. It offered a much more precarious living than that of a performer, especially when his compositions had already shown themselves to be in advance of popular taste.
In 1802 his doctor sent him to Heiligenstadt, a village outside Vienna, in the hope that its rural peace would rest his hearing. The new surroundings reawakened in Beethoven a love of nature and the countryside, and hope and optimism returned. Chief amongst the sunny works of this period was the charming, exuberant Symphony no. 2. However, when it became obvious that there was no improvement in his hearing, despair returned. By the autumn the young man felt so low both physically and mentally that he feared he would not surive the winter. He therefore wrote his will and left instructions that it was to be opened only after his death.
Towards the end Beethoven would rest his head on his piano and compose using only vibration.
Just how serious was Beethoven's plight? At first the malady was intermittent or so faint that it worried him only occasionally. But by 1801 he reported that a whistle and a buzz was constant. Low speech tones became an unintelligible hum, shouting became an intolerable din. Apparently the illness completely swamped delicate sounds and distorted strong ones. He may have had short periods of remission, but for the last ten years of his life he was totally deaf.
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You don't have to be a great composer or virtuoso pianist to realise the value of getting your hearing tested on a regular basis.
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