sheet-musicI have recently listened to The Great Courses class “Great Masters:  Ludwig van Beethoven” by Professor Robert Greenberg.  I have been interested in Beethoven’s music most of my adult life. I’ll admit I bought plenty of records (ha! Any of you youngsters know what those were?) of rock ‘n roll.  But I would drift to the classical aisle as well.  There was Beethoven, the bridge between Classical and Romantic music, a genius who stepped out of the convention of his time.  I adored him. I had a picture of him on my bedroom wall throughout high school and college. So for me, this class was learning about the man behind the music.

  1. Why did Beethoven go deaf?


An autoimmune disease

Immersing his head underwater to keep himself awake


An accident

  1. Was Beethoven’s deafness the worse thing that happened to him?
  1. What caused Beethoven’s death?




  1. Beethoven unknowingly placed a curse on future generations of composers. What was it?



  1. There was no indication that Beethoven had syphilis. The other reasons are all theories.  Professor Greenberg believes from the research it was typhus that caused Beethoven’s deafness at an early age. The hearing loss was gradual, and the Erocia (3rd Symphony) was in part dedicated to a hero, who was not Napoleon, but was Beethoven facing his own hearing loss. Wikipedia mentions a fall when he was 28 years old with sudden hearing loss, but the Professor didn’t entertain this as a theory.
  2. Beethoven was expected to perform concerts in order to support himself as a composer. While playing his Piano Concerto #5 in 1811, his deafness ruined the performance, and Beethoven did not perform after that.  Some scholars think this was a boon to humanity, because Beethoven was able to devote himself solely to composition. Nonetheless, it is a tragedy that he was not able to hear his 9th Symphony which is felt to be the greatest piece of western symphonic music.
  3. At the conclusion of the 9th, he had to be turned around to see the roaring applause of the audience.
  4. Beethoven died of cirrhosis of the liver. There is no evidence that he was an alcoholic or heavy drinker.
  5. Beethoven was working on his 10th Symphony when he died. It was considered very unlucky to be working on a 10th Symphony because the composer could die, just like Beethoven. Numerologist Schoenberg waxed paranoid when discussing the otherworldly significance of the number nine when it came to symphonists: “It seems that the Ninth is a limit. He who wants to go beyond it must pass away. It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not ready. Those who have written a Ninth stood too close to the hereafter.”  Dvorak and Mahler both died after completing their 9th Nonetheless numerous composers went on to complete their 10th and beyond and lived to tell the tale.