Modern Culture19 Jun 2009 05:49 pm
At the tender age of 28, the great German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven (December 16, 1770- March 26, 1827) began to notice that he was suffering from hearing loss; by the time he was 50, he was almost completely deaf. Always moody and hot-tempered, Beethoven’s progressive hearing loss was a source of great suffering for the composer, and his despair even drove him to contemplate suicide. In an 1801 letter addressed to Franz Gerhard Wegeler, Beethoven confided to his friend that, “For two years I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it is impossible to say to people, “I am deaf.” If I belonged to any other profession it would be easier, but in my profession it is a frightful state…”
Beethoven eventually learned to cope with his condition, and continued to compose music by relying on vibrations to help him perceive sound. The crafty composer employed the use of a special “bite rod” (fastened to the soundboard of his piano), which helped him feel vibrations in his jaw when he played music. He also famously cut off the legs of his piano so that he could feel the vibrations in the floor while he played. Remarkably, Beethoven composed some of his best pieces after he had already lost his hearing, such as his legendary Ninth Symphony.
As his hearing progressively worsened, Beethoven began relying on “Conversation Notebooks” to communicate with his visitors; his friends would write their dialogue in the notebook, and Beethoven would either respond verbally or in writing (usually when he didn’t want the conversation overheard). Because the composer usually responded to his friends verbally, many of the notebook conversations are one-sided. However, the reader can still get the gist of what the great man said from the recorded responses of his guests.
It is estimated that 400 of Beethoven’s “Conversation Notebooks” were found after his death in 1827. Tragically, Beethoven’s meddling and misguided associate Anton Schindler destroyed 264 of these notebooks (and altered countless others). Schindler “pruned” out any of the notebooks/conversations that he deemed uninteresting, unimportant or unflattering to the composer’s image. So what do the remnants of this remarkable historical record tell us about the man behind the icon? Besides providing fascinating insights into Beethoven’s composition methods and musical theories, his notebooks reveal that he and One-hit wonder Sir Mix-a-Lot have one thing in common: they both proudly express their love for a well shaped derriere, or in Beethoven’s words, “a magnificent fanny.”
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