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Beethoven probably began to go deaf after what he called his ‘terrible typhus’ of 1797, but he tried to keep it a secret, while consulting doctors and trying various remedies, such as the application of almond oil. He was extremely anxious about its possible effect on his career as a musician, and embarrassed by its effect on his social life.

   In the summer of 1801 he wrote to tow friends. To Franz Wegeler in Bonn he wrote that he was very busy, with more commissions than he could cope with,and publishers competing to get hold of his latest works, but he was worried about his health, and particularly about his gradual loss of hearing. He had been leading a miserable life for the previous two years because of his deafness, and had avoided human company because he found it hard to tell people that he was deaf. He would always say, “I live entirely in my music.”

  Two days later he wrote to Karl Amenda, a more recent friend. On the same lines, expressing the anxiety that his best years would pass “without my being able to achieve all that my talent and my strength have commanded me to do.” His fear that his deafness would prevent him from realizing his artistic potential led him to contemplate taking his own artistic life, but in the so-called ‘Heiligenstadt Testament’, addressed to his brothers and found among his papers after his death, which he wrote in the depths of despair in October 1802, he said that he had rejected suicide, and was resigned to his condition. He explained that his deafness was the reason why he had been withdrawing from people’s company, because he found it so humiliating not being able to hear, but he did not want to tell people about it. Although tempted to kill himself, “the only thing that held me back was my art. For indeed it seemed to me impossible to leave this world before I had produced all the works that I felt the urge to compose.”

During the summer of 1802 he had spent six months in Heiligenstadt, thirteen miles outside Vienna, on the advice of one of his doctors who thought that his hearing might improve in the peace and quiet away from Vienna. But his pupil, Ferdinand Ries (son of the leader of the Bonn court orchestra) visited him in the summer, and during a walk in the summer, and during a walk in the woods pointed out o fan elder twig. Beethoven could not hear it, and this made him very morose , As the winter approached he realized that his hearing was no better, and that it was likely to get worse, and he might end up totally deaf.

It could be argued that Beethoven’s deafness helped the development of his art: isolated from the world, and unable to perform, he could devote all his time to composing, He was already composing less at the piano, and the first of his bound sketchbooks, in which he made detailed drafts of the works in progress. Date from 1798. In his panic, at the beginning, Beethoven may have believed himself to be deaf. He suffered from tinnitus ( humming and buzzing in the ears), and loud noises caused him pain. In 1804 his friend Stephan von Breuning, with whom he briefly shared lodgings, wrote to Franz Wegler about the terrible effect his gradual loss of hearing was having on Beethoven: it had caused him to distrust his friends, and he was becoming very difficult to be with. But Beethoven did not start using an ear trumpet until 1814.

But above all else, Beethoven was dedicated to his art and the urge to compose remained with him throughout his life. It may be that he shielded away form the commitment of marriage because he knew it would interfere with his art. From a very early age he wanted to compose and, although he needed to earn a living, he wrote ‘I love my art too dearly to be activated solely by self-interest.’







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