Beethoven's Deafness May Have Influenced His Music Throughout The Years: Study
Ludwig van Beethoven, the eponymous classical music composer, is famous for churning out compositions despite his deafness. And now new study in the British Medical Journal shows that his musical compositions actually seem to be influenced by his worsening deafness with age.
Beethoven's deafness is attributed to severe tinnitus, which is a sensation of ringing or noise in the ears, according to BBC News.
The researchers reported that Beethoven first wrote about his hearing problems in an 1801 letter, saying: "In the theatre I have to get very close to the orchestra to understand the performers, and that from a distance I do not hear the high notes of the instruments and the singers' voices."
Researchers reported in the journal article that the hearing in Beethoven's left ear was first affected, "and he reported (bilateral) tinnitus, high tone hearing loss associated with poor speech discrimination, and recruitment with loud noises." In 1818, Beethoven began communicating with people via writing in notebooks, and researchers reported that Beethoven may have been completely deaf by 1825.
As a result, the BMJ article shows that Beethoven's later work -- when his hearing problems had grown more severe -- used more lower-pitched notes versus high-pitched notes.
BBC News reported:
The report's author Edoardo Saccenti said: "These results suggest that, as deafness progressed, Beethoven tended to use middle and low frequency notes, which he could hear better when music was performed, seemingly seeking for an auditory feedback loop. "When he came to rely completely on his inner ear he was no longer compelled to produce music he could actually hear when performed and slowly returned to his inner musical world and earlier composing experiences."
While interesting, Dr. Thomas Balkany, director of the University of Miami Ear Institute, told HealthDay that the journal article is very speculative of Beethoven's work, as "there is no formal hearing testing presented to determine the degree or frequencies of hearing loss."
These days, tinnitus can be improved as long as it's treated, according to the Mayo Clinic. The hearing condition affects as many as one in five people.
When tinnitus is a result of an underlying condition, a person can receive treatment by either getting earwax removed, treating a vascular condition or changing medication, the Mayo Clinic reported. Otherwise, a white noise machine, hearing aid or masking device can help to make the sound less noticeable.
There are also some medications that can help relieve symptoms of tinnitus (though there is not yet a drug that can cure tinnitus), according to the Mayo Clinic.