How Did Beethoven Create Music if He Was Deaf?

When the artist created the musical works that made him so famous, he was already deaf. Learn about the strategies Beethoven used to become one of the leading figures in classical music.
How Did Beethoven Create Music if He Was Deaf?

Last update: 20 June, 2023

Despite the progressive hearing loss he suffered, Beethoven found in music a unique and powerful form of communication. His creative audacity and his tireless search for new sonorous compositions laid the foundations for the development of melodies that left an indelible mark.

In the progressive development of his condition, he used strategies that allowed him to keep his compositions alive. Masterpieces such as the Moonlight Sonata, which immerses the listener in a landscape of mystery and melancholy, and the Ninth Symphony, with its universal hymn Ode to Joy, still resonate strongly in the present.

Beethoven’s challenge to create music

His deafness began to manifest itself around 1796, when he was 26 years old. However, this obstacle didn’t prevent him from continuing to create some of classical music’s most memorable works. As his hearing deteriorated, Beethoven became increasingly dependent on his inner instinct, having the ability to remember and work with the music in his mind.

To this day, the cause of Beethoven’s deafness remains a controversial subject. Some suggest that it may have been the result of an autoimmune disease, such as lupus, or an inflammatory disease, such as sarcoidosis. However, research such as that published in The Laryngoscope emphasizes that his illness was caused by lead poisoning, as it’s said that the composer liked to drink wine, which would have been contaminated.

Although Beethoven was deaf, this wasn’t an impediment for him to develop his musical talents. In fact, some of his best-known works, such as Symphony No. 9, were composed when he had already lost most of his hearing. From 1819, Beethoven could no longer hear anything, but that wasn’t a limiting factor for him to continue creating music.

Beyond the ears: Beethoven’s composing strategies

Despite his deafness, Beethoven used strategies to continue composing music, which we’ll share with you below.

Use of a special hearing aid

Beethoven used a device, in the form of a metal tube, which he placed on his piano. By doing so, the composer could feel the vibrations of the music in his body.

Sometimes, he also used a wooden rod that he grasped at one end with his teeth and on the other side he would touch the piano’s soundboard to get a better feel for the sound. A 2018 investigation revealed that these artifacts were of little help, because his problem was sensorineural and not conductive.

Cut the legs off his piano

In an attempt to feel the vibrations of the music more directly, Beethoven cut the legs off his piano to place it directly on the floor. By doing this, he could better feel the vibrations of the music. This tactic allowed him to get a physical sense of what he was creating.

Composition through inner hearing

Beethoven had the ability to hear and work with the music in his mind. Despite his deafness, he could imagine what the music he was composing would sound like.

This ability, known as “inner hearing,” is one that many musicians develop. But in his case, it became an essential tool in the compositional process.

Supporting his knowledge of music theory

Beethoven had a deep knowledge of music theory. This knowledge allowed him to understand how the different notes worked together and how compositions were structured.

His memory of how different instruments and notes sounded

Despite his deafness, Beethoven had a remarkable memory for instruments and notes. He could remember and imagine the sound of each device, which enabled him to compose large-scale orchestral music.

Beethoven’s deafness drove him into isolation

As Beethoven struggled with progressive deafness, he also experienced increasing isolation. His hearing loss affected his ability to communicate with others and to fully enjoy music.

This deafness alienated him from society and deepened his sense of loneliness. In a letter written to his brothers Carl and Johann in 1802, Beethoven confessed:

For two years I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it’s impossible for me to say to people “I am deaf”. If I belonged to any other profession, it would be easier, but in my profession it’s a dreadful state.

~ Beethoven's letter to his brothers ~

However, despite these difficulties, Beethoven found in music a way of escape and expression, using his art to transcend physical and emotional barriers. His legacy has endured through time, inspiring generations of musicians and listeners.

His compositions have even been performed on countless stages around the world, bringing his message of resilience to people of all cultures and ages.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.