Name a flower — rose. Name a color — red. Name a composer – Beethoven. Name one thing about Beethoven – he was deaf. There should be no mystery in the world’s enduring romance with a deaf composer: to write magical music and not be able to hear it yourself seems the saddest fate imaginable. But his childhood and later life were sadder still. Beethoven’s father, Johann, was a mediocre, insecure and alcoholic court musician under whom Beethoven learned music, but suffered an abusive childhood. Family and friends regularly saw the young man at home standing by the clavier and crying. The young Beethoven grew up shy and reclusive, often monosyllabic, socially inept and mean. The boy had suffered and was thus affected by the suffering of others; he felt called to help when he could. For the rest of his life, Beethoven would see his music as the best kind of healing he could offer.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), the German composer and pianist, remains one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music and his works among the most performed in the classical music repertoire. Beethoven’s heartbreaking deafness that dragged him down underlies the entire Beethoven legend, turning his not-so-ordinary life into a journey of struggle and transcendence. He didn’t suddenly become deaf; Instead, he experienced a slow and uneven decline in his ability to hear that continued until he was almost deaf. Beethoven’s discovery of his deafness was all the more poignant because he was young and at the time at the height of his success. Had he been able to hear, he might have become a great composer; his deafness made him the greatest composer.
Much of Beethoven’s work is of lasting value. Most music lovers would agree that Beethoven’s music is greater than any other music since it appeared. Its greatness derives from what each listener, in his own way, experiences and can best describe as his spiritual (soul) content; something the listener directly perceives, although she may be completely unable to articulate it. It is only the greatest kind of artist who presents us with experiences that we recognize as primordial and different from anything we have known before. With such art we contact, if only for a moment, what Shakespeare describes as “the prophetic spirit of the wide world/Dreaming of things to come.” It is to this type of art that Beethoven’s music belongs, and is perhaps the greatest of its kind. The spiritual essence of life, as presented by Beethoven, resonates with our deepest experiences; and the solution he presents is consistent with our highest aspirations. His music has the touch of authenticity. Her pain is real, and so is her heroism.
Beethoven was a deeply troubled man, torn between his idealism about human nature and the misanthropic, repulsive nature of being human; is divided between the spiritual writer of the Missa Solemnis and the lonely man wandering the streets of Vienna at night in solitude. However, although he was neurotic for most of his life, he was in love with his music, answering his true calling to fully express the gift that was his. In the middle of his life, he wrote to a friend: “Before I leave for the Elysian Fields, I must leave behind what the eternal soul has put into my soul…”; and he really did, following his dharma.
It should come as no surprise that Beethoven was deeply inspired by his reading of the Bhagavad Gita. In the psychological turmoil that his life had become, he searched the world’s great literature, found the Gita, and clung steadfastly to its wisdom, writing in his personal journal the following quotation from it: “Blessed is the man who has overcome all his passions. , performs the task with his active abilities, without worrying about the result… calmly”. Through his music, Beethoven discovered that his work was more powerful than his suffering; and through the pursuit of his brilliant music, he gave light to the world.
Read Beethoven, a masterful biography by Maynard Solomon, original in its interpretation of his life and work. As he lay dying, Beethoven momentarily opened his eyes, raised his right hand, clenched it into a fist, and died; an example of courageous struggle. Beethoven’s battlefield is harmony, where music works through internal divisions and conflicts, giving the world a new way to deal with doubt and despair. Listen to his Ninth Symphony, ending with the glorious Ode to Joy. Better yet, listen to Piano Sonata Opus 110, truly the music of a seer — wildly free, liberating, in fine form; and ultimately signifying the triumph of light over darkness. It just might touch a part of you that nothing else can.