Challenges and obstacles are a part of living and growing that allow us the opportunity to dig deep within ourselves to find strengths we would never have explored otherwise. Those opportunities are great lessons in this journey that is called life. If we choose to conquer and learn from them, we can grow in so many meaningful ways.
Ludwig van Beethovan, one of history’s most masterful composers, began losing his hearing when he was 26. The next 20 years of his life saw his world become silent. But only to his ears.
Beethovan continued composing, and created some of his most influential pieces – among them, the Ninth Symphony – which is considered one of the greatest works of music ever to have been written.
In an online interview with WQXR, Joseph Straus, author of Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music, spoke about Beethovan. Below are a few excerpts.
“Instead of his deafness stigmatizing the music, it is understood to valorize the music – to make it better or transcendent in some way. The turning point in Beethoven criticism comes from Wagner. To him, Beethoven’s deafness wasn’t a negative thing, it was a positive thing. It permitted him to enter this strange, transcendent realm where he was able to compose this music, cut off from the conventions that constrained composers who could hear.”
Interviewer: Is it dismissive to wonder whether his deafness may have resulted in unintentional results or even hampered his potential?
The consensus these days is “no” — that if the deafness had any impact at all, that it was liberatory, freeing him up to move beyond common compositional conventions of his day. And I think that’s probably accurate in some way. He was no longer able to do practical music-making, such as performing as a pianist, and conducting, and life naturally became more self-contained, hermetic, and isolated. That clearly has an impact on the kind of music he wrote.
…So, what I think I heard Joseph say was that doing things differently did not by any means stifle Beethovan. It only brought out other strengths that caused his talents to go way beyond those of others in his industry. What a great gift!