Hearing Beethoven A story of musical loss and discovery

Robin Wallace

Book - 2018

We're all familiar with the image of a fierce and scowling Beethoven, struggling doggedly to overcome his rapidly progressing deafness. That Beethoven continued to play and compose for more than a decade after he lost his hearing is often seen as an act of superhuman heroism. But the truth is that Beethoven's response to his deafness was entirely human. And by demystifying what he did, we can learn a great deal about Beethoven's music. Perhaps no one is better positioned to help u...s do so than Robin Wallace, who not only has dedicated his life to the music of Beethoven but also has close personal experience with deafness. One day, at the age of forty-four, Wallace's late wife, Barbara, found she couldn't hear out of her right ear-the result of radiation administered to treat a brain tumor early in life. Three years later, she lost hearing in her left ear as well. Over the eight and a half years that remained of her life, despite receiving a cochlear implant, Barbara didn't overcome her deafness or ever function again like a hearing person. Wallace shows here that Beethoven didn't do those things, either. Rather than heroically overcoming his deafness, as we're commonly led to believe, Beethoven accomplished something even more difficult and challenging: he adapted to his hearing loss and changed the way he interacted with music, revealing important aspects of its very nature in the process. Creating music became for Beethoven became a visual and physical process, emanating from visual cues and from instruments that moved and vibrated. His deafness may have slowed him down, but it also led to works of unsurpassed profundity.

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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
Chicago ; London : The University of Chicago Press 2018.
Language
English
Physical Description
xi, 281 pages : illustrations, music ; 23 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages [231]-270) and index.
ISBN
9780226429755
022642975X
Main Author
Robin Wallace (author)
  • Introduction: a road trip to Texas
  • Beethoven's deafness: what we know, what we can only guess
  • 2003: a sudden case of deafness
  • The deaf composer
  • Deafness, vocation, vision
  • The artifacts of deafness
  • Ears, eyes, and mind
  • Hearing through the eyes
  • Epilogue: embracing wholeness.
Review by Library Journal Reviews

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) is considered one of the greatest composers of all time. It is all the more remarkable that he wrote a significant number of works after he had virtually lost his hearing. Beethoven scholar Wallace (musicology, Baylor Univ.) offers a probing examination of the artist's creative process and how he turned his hearing loss to his advantage. The author interweaves the personal experiences of his late wife, Barbara, who also became deaf. Though Beethoven's loss was gradual, Wallace points out that Barbara's was a "sudden, devastating blow." While helping his wife cope with her deafness, Wallace gained insight into hearing loss and noticed striking comparisons between what Barbara and Beethoven faced as they attempted to adapt. VERDICT The author deepens readers' knowledge of Beethoven's artistic life while broadening their understanding of hearing and loss. Highly recommended.—Edward B. Cone, New York Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

We're all familiar with the image of a fierce and scowling Beethoven, struggling doggedly to overcome his rapidly progressing deafness. That Beethoven continued to play and compose for more than a decade after he lost his hearing is often seen as an act of superhuman heroism. But the truth is that Beethoven's response to his deafness was entirely human. And by demystifying what he did, we can learn a great deal about Beethoven's music. Perhaps no one is better positioned to help us do so than Robin Wallace, who not only has dedicated his life to the music of Beethoven but also has close personal experience with deafness. One day, at the age of forty-four, Wallace's late wife, Barbara, found she couldn't hear out of her right ear-the result of radiation administered to treat a brain tumor early in life. Three years later, she lost hearing in her left ear as well. Over the eight and a half years that remained of her life, despite receiving a cochlear implant, Barbara didn't overcome her deafness or ever function again like a hearing person. Wallace shows here that Beethoven didn't do those things, either. Rather than heroically overcoming his deafness, as we're commonly led to believe, Beethoven accomplished something even more difficult and challenging: he adapted to his hearing loss and changed the way he interacted with music, revealing important aspects of its very nature in the process. Creating music became for Beethoven became a visual and physical process, emanating from visual cues and from instruments that moved and vibrated. His deafness may have slowed him down, but it also led to works of unsurpassed profundity.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Wallace demystifies the narratives of Beethoven’s approach to his hearing loss and instead explores how Beethoven did not "conquer" his deafness; he adapted to life with it. We’re all familiar with the image of a fierce and scowling Beethoven, struggling doggedly to overcome his rapidly progressing deafness. That Beethoven continued to play and compose for more than a decade after he lost his hearing is often seen as an act of superhuman heroism. But the truth is that Beethoven’s response to his deafness was entirely human. And by demystifying what he did, we can learn a great deal about Beethoven’s music. Perhaps no one is better positioned to help us do so than Robin Wallace, who not only has dedicated his life to the music of Beethoven but also has close personal experience with deafness. One day, Wallace’s late wife, Barbara, found she couldn’t hear out of her right ear—the result of radiation administered to treat a brain tumor early in life. Three years later, she lost hearing in her left ear as well. Over the eight and a half years that remained of her life, despite receiving a cochlear implant, Barbara didn’t overcome her deafness or ever function again like a hearing person. Wallace shows here that Beethoven didn’t do those things, either. Rather than heroically overcoming his deafness, Beethoven accomplished something even more challenging: he adapted to his hearing loss and changed the way he interacted with music, revealing important aspects of its very nature in the process. Wallace tells the story of Beethoven’s creative life, interweaving it with his and Barbara’s experience to reveal aspects that only living with deafness could open up. The resulting insights make Beethoven and his music more accessible and help us see how a disability can enhance human wholeness and flourishing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Wallace demystifies the narratives of Beethoven's approach to his hearing loss and instead explores how Beethoven did not "conquer" his deafness; he adapted to life with it. We're all familiar with the image of a fierce and scowling Beethoven, struggling doggedly to overcome his rapidly progressing deafness. That Beethoven continued to play and compose for more than a decade after he lost his hearing is often seen as an act of superhuman heroism. But the truth is that Beethoven's response to his deafness was entirely human. And by demystifying what he did, we can learn a great deal about Beethoven's music. Perhaps no one is better positioned to help us do so than Robin Wallace, who not only has dedicated his life to the music of Beethoven but also has close personal experience with deafness. One day, Wallace's late wife, Barbara, found she couldn't hear out of her right ear'the result of radiation administered to treat a brain tumor early in life. Three years later, she lost hearing in her left ear as well. Over the eight and a half years that remained of her life, despite receiving a cochlear implant, Barbara didn't overcome her deafness or ever function again like a hearing person. Wallace shows here that Beethoven didn't do those things, either. Rather than heroically overcoming his deafness, Beethoven accomplished something even more challenging: he adapted to his hearing loss and changed the way he interacted with music, revealing important aspects of its very nature in the process. Wallace tells the story of Beethoven's creative life, interweaving it with his and Barbara's experience to reveal aspects that only living with deafness could open up. The resulting insights make Beethoven and his music more accessible and help us see how a disability can enhance human wholeness and flourishing.