Was Beethoven Deaf?

In December 1770, composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany. He is known for composing many famous works such as the Eroica symphony as well as his 5th symphony. Along with his composing accomplishments, it’s a well-known fact that Beethoven dealt with deafness. In fact, he is one of the most notable deaf people in classical music history. He is someone worthy of admiration within the deaf culture as an individual who excelled in his craft despite tremendous challenges. In addition, he is studied by students participating in deaf education. Not surprisingly, Beethoven’s deafness had a serious impact on his life’s work. The following offers a little more detail on Beethoven’s experience with deafness and how he dealt with it. The courage Beethoven displayed in his life may inspire deaf people and others within the deaf community to live to their fullest potential.

Beethoven had been studying and composing music for many years before he began to experience hearing loss. It is believed that he began to go deaf at around age 26. At first, Beethoven dealt with the onset of deafness by avoiding outings with friends due to his trouble with hearing conversations. Consequently, many acquaintances dismissed him as unfriendly. Most of them were unaware that he was going deaf. Deaf people as well as deaf culture weren’t as understood as they are today. Dealing with the onset of deafness made this period in Beethoven’s life a very challenging one. Eventually, he made the decision not to let the fact that he was going deaf put a stop to his life’s pursuits. This decision led to the beginning of a very creative period in his life.

Beethoven’s decision not to let his deafness get in the way of his creative work, paved the way for great musical successes. Even so, Beethoven did have to make use of some practical devices to assist him in hearing. For example, he had ear cornets, or ear horns, in various sizes and designs to help him hear better. An ear horn is a device with one end that a person places inside his or her ear while sounds traveled into a cone on its opposite end. This device helps to amplify a variety of sounds. These ear horns assisted Beethoven to some degree until he went completely deaf. Many people in the eighteenth century deaf community probably tried similar devices in an effort to hear better. Later, Beethoven utilized conversation books to communicate with others. A visitor would write a question or observation in the book, give it to Beethoven, and he would write a reply. In short, Beethoven found ways to continue to communicate with people as well as pursue his beloved music.

In the late eighteenth century, doctors weren’t able to give Beethoven any definite answers as to the cause of his deafness. Some doctors thought it may have been brought on by a disease such as typhus while others thought it might be a result of lead poisoning. The physicians of that time period didn’t have the tests or the technology that could have helped improve the lives of many deaf people. In addition, the resources available in the realm of deaf education that the deaf community enjoys today were not available. A deaf person living in Beethoven’s time would likely have received a minimal amount of deaf education, if any. Despite the challenges related to deafness, Beethoven will always be known as one of the most gifted composers in the history of classical music.    

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