As I watch Clockwork Orange for the first time, the composition of Beethoven’s 9th symphony floods the theater with every note. I’m not sure if I’m more impressed by Stanley Kubrik and John Alcott’s collaboration of one of the most well renowned films of its time or by the less known fact that when Ludwig van Beethoven had finished this piece he was almost completely deaf.
The cause of Beethoven’s hearing loss is controversial at best. Such theories include Syphilis, Otosclerosis, Labyrinthitis, or even the possibility of lead poisoning. Evident from his personal memoirs, the first symptoms of hearing loss began as early as age 31 leading to a profound deafness by 44 years of age. Although his hearing impairment did not prevent him from composing music, complaints of tinnitus and progressive high pitch hearing loss spurred his frustration, isolation and depression followed by fits of rage.
With the use of ear trumpets and the numerous attempts to cure his hearing loss, Beethoven continued to compose mostly from memory, tactile vibration and pure adaptation. In fact, when reviewing his collection, it was said that as his hearing loss progressed he composed with a lower range of notes rather than the full range of frequencies from previous pieces. Any composition involving a range of higher notes undoubtedly came from his creative mind and imagination.
Conducting the premier of his infamous 9th symphony after a twelve-year sabbatical from performing, the musicians were instructed to ignore Ludwig’s direction and follow that of the co-director. Although he could not follow it himself, the seamless blend of music from his final classical masterpiece overwhelmed the audience with joy, gratitude and an everlasting impression on future works to come.
Now nearly two centuries later, Ludwig van Beethoven will always be remembered not for his hearing loss but for his talent, genius mind and his inspiring collection of music.