Home > Deaf History > How Did Beethoven Become Deaf?

How Did Beethoven Become Deaf?

August 5, 2007

There are various theories circulating today regarding Beethoven’s health and hearing loss. It has been suggested that Beethoven was suffering from Syphilis (now discredited) or that he was poisoned. I have listed the presently accepted causes of his ailments and death, though tests are being carried out on his hair and should prove the matter conclusively.

Further test results on the Guavera lock of Beethoven’s hair have been published – I quote ‘The second test was a trace metals analysis conducted by Dr. William Walsh at the HRI & Pfeiffer Research Center in Naperville, Illinois. This test will reveal the presence of any trace heavy metals. The following results of this test were announced by Dr. Walsh on Tuesday, October 17th 2000:

High lead concentrations in Beethoven’s hair were found in independent analyses by McCrone Research Institute & Argonne National Laboratory. This is evidence that Beethoven had plumbism (lead poisoning) which may have caused his life-long illnesses, impacted his personality, and possibly contributed to his death. Distinctive trace-metal patterns associated with genius, irritability, glucose disorders, and malabsorption were not present in the Beethoven samples tested by McCrone Research Institute. Very low (undetectable) mercury levels were reported independently by McCrone Research Institute and Argonne National Laboratory. These results provide no evidence that Beethoven received medical treatment for syphilis, usually treated in the 1820’s with mercury compounds. This supports the consensus of Beethoven scholars who believe that Beethoven never had syphilis. Rumors that Beethoven suffered from syphilis have been discounted in all serious musicological literature for the last thirty years.’

For those seeking further information, check out the new book, ‘Beethoven’s hair’ by Russell Martin (New York, Broadway Book 2000)

DEAFNESS

The cause of Beethoven’s deafness is generally thought to have been Otosclerosis – the abnormal growth of bone of the inner ear. This bone prevents structures within the ear from working properly and causes hearing loss. Otosclerosis is a disease, which results in new bone formation either in the area of the stapes bone or in the cochlea housing the hearing nerve; or it can be a combination of both. When the bony deposits infiltrate the stapes bone, this bone is unable to vibrate and pass the sound into the inner ear. This results in what is called a conductive hearing loss, i.e., the sound is not being properly “conducted” into the inner ear. As a general rule, the thicker the bony deposit the greater the hearing loss, and the longer the hearing loss, the greater is the amount of deposits. The fixation of the stapes usually follows a slow and relentless course with progressively worsening hearing.

1796/8: First signs of deafness

1801: Complains of buzzing in ears in letter to Wegeler; Amenda

1802: “Heiligenstadt testament” – Beethoven writes of his despair at worsening hearing

1814: Further deterioration sets in. Last public appearence as pianist

1816-18: Use of ear trumpets

1818-27: Conversation books. (Conversation had to be written)

1823: Almost totally deaf (left ear not as bad as right) (MAJOR) ILLNESS -(minor intestinal problems throughout life)

1804: (spring) Serious illness, slow convalescence

1813: Serious intestinal

1824-5: Intestinal. Recovery in July

1826-7: Final Illness; Chirohsis/dropsy. (5 operations to drain fluid)

Ear Trumpets and spectacles belonging to Beethoven. Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

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Categories: Deaf History
  1. Lisa Marie
    August 5, 2007 at 9:51 am

    It’s very interesting! Some facts I learned from the book I read and I encouraged my kids to watch the movie about Beethoven’s life. We got it from Denver Library…it is very close to a very true story. The movie is really good! I wish I could remember the title of that movie.

  2. ASL sucks
    August 5, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    Ok, I am trying to be nice.

    Does it hurt when he puts the large horn in his ear? Is it heavy to carry around?

  3. Kamig
    August 6, 2007 at 4:27 am

    Hehe…why don’t you hang a coffee cup on your ear and find out. Then report the results back to us. :)

  4. Lisa C.
    August 6, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Interesting.

  5. September 14, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    Very interesting post. I have Otosclerosis, can I now compare myself to Beethoven? :P

  6. lilly
    December 27, 2007 at 9:17 am

    i heard about beethoven i pity him… I play the piano myself and i just played his symphony !!!! i love beethoven’s tunes!!!!! i just wish he could hear his music!!!!!

  7. lilly
    December 27, 2007 at 9:18 am

    i heard about beethoven i pity him… I play the piano myself and i just played his symphony !!!! i love beethoven’s tunes!!!!! i just wish he could hear his music!!!!!

  8. kaitlynn
    April 24, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    way cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. April 27, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    Didn’t Beethoven go deaf because his father beat him almost every night?

  10. May 5, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    ok i did not know beethoven was deaf thats crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. May 5, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    my name is really cacalacaloo and i love it everyone makesb fun of me and its fun because i tell them off i am soo coolllllll and you dont even know because my name is cacalacaloo!!!!hhahahahahahbahzsdlgjkl;dznxdfhkljzxcklvjXKLfhjsfhjkljfl i poop on myself

  12. Anonymous
    September 8, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    i like it

  13. natasheyania
    October 1, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    I love beethoven he is a great person 2 look up 2. Hes 1 of my idols hes great. In music class we r learning abaut him. Another thing is that his music is wonderful.If i was everybody eals i would have him as 1 of my idols like right now.If BEETHOVEN was alive right no i would say u go BEETHOVEN you rock out the hole wide world.1ns agian i love you BEETHOVEN!

  14. Alice
    October 30, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    Beethoven is an inspiration to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and the world in general showing people that you can create beauty in the midst of terrible obstacles. He shows us the triumph of the human mind over matter!

  15. randi
    December 5, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    I personialy dont think your theory is true

  16. randi
    December 5, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    I thougt that his father used to
    abuse him as a child thats why he went
    deaf,but i still love beethoven wiht
    all my heart,and if that did happen to him
    i am truly sorry to hear that. As my mother often
    tells me what god has for you can no man take it away.

  17. randi
    December 5, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    I agree with what omgawolf747 says cause thats
    memphis theory of beethovens codition,but if that is true
    about him i am sorry to hear that cause no human
    should be treated that way.

  18. December 10, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    thank you for telling me how he became deaf. that was so interesting to e and my friend…

    but there are a lot more Quetion for me… thank you thow

  19. Nadine Maktaby
    January 15, 2009 at 9:37 am

    wow intresting story of him… nice one

  20. Music Teacher
    January 17, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    I find this debate a very tricky one. I am an elementary music teacher, and many of my resources claim the cause of his Otosclerosis was the abuse of his father. I find it very difficult to bring this up in class, as I do not want o bring the discussion of abuse into my music class about the Ode to Joy. Is there any truth to the abuse theory? Is this just speculation? It is common knowledge that Beethoven was abused, but could this have caused the otosclerosis?

  21. Debby
    March 12, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Even though Beethoven’s deafness contributed to his suffering, he wrote the most amazingly joyful music (e.g. – the Ninth Symphony). DId he fake it? Or was his faith in God and inner joy so full he triumphed over his circumstance? We can all learn to do that.

  22. March 31, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I LOVE HIM HIS MUSIC IS SO WODERFUL IT MAKES ME CRY

  23. June 17, 2009 at 9:09 am

    u boys and gurl shut up

  24. LiLMAMA51O.
    July 18, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Woow. Jst a year ago I found out he was deaf, and I always wondered if he was always deaf his whole lifee. And reading this I had a better understanding. But as he was goen deaf how did make all thosee Beautiful tunes. Was it thee Vibrations of the keys or what?
    -Miss.TellyBaby.

  25. July 19, 2009 at 6:21 am

    To hear sounds, Beethoven cut off the legs of his piano and placed the instrument on the floor. He did this to feel the vibrations in the floor when he played.

  26. August 11, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    stupid but i like it

  27. August 11, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    ooh yeah i love beethoven show

  28. greenbatter
    February 19, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    It’s to bad Beethoven became deaf. the 5th symphony could have been so much better.

  29. michala mae
    February 24, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    ok so i know beethoven was deaf but i thought it was a life long deafness well like they say “every day u learn somthing new” or well somthing like that. oh ya and i really do have two first names:P

  30. July 16, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    To answer some of the questions….

    No one really knows if abuse had anything to do with Beethoven’s deafness. So far as I know, while Beethoven’s father was abusive and a drunk, I do not believe he ever mentions being beaten every night.
    The movie Immortal Beloved had a lot of fiction in it, so if that is where the idea that Beethoven’s deafness came from being beaten all the time, while it’s possible, it’s probably not true.

    How did he write music while deaf? Easy. Well, for him anyway. Beethoven understood intimately the mathematics of music, and was so familiar with each and every note, he could hear what he was writing in his head.

    It’s possible he could rely somewhat on the vibrations when leaning his head against the piano, but remember that Beethoven was a master of music, and his familiarity with it was all he really needed in order to write.
    Beethoven wasn’t like most of us. He didn’t spend 2 or 3 hours studying music and then go do something else.
    He spent hours and hours and hours every day with music. He played the piano excessively. His house maids and friends reported that Beethoven would become so caught up in the piano, that he would often skip several meals at a time. His eating habits where terrible, which probably contributed to his health problems.

    He was OBSESSED with music, and could be difficult to get along with sometimes because of it.

    Hope that was helpful.

  31. Lauren
    October 29, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    I love Beethoven! What a musical genius!

  32. Lauren
    October 29, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    I heard somewhere, that because of Beethovens deafness, he went through a manic depressive stage, and it is shown through his music. His music is like his up and down mood swings. If you notice in his songs how much emotion there is. I heard that he was very sullen over the thought of his hearing almost being completely gone. Unfortunately, his thought became reality. (Again, thats just something Ive heard.)

  33. Taler Lanter
    November 16, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Hi Beethoven is one of the best compers I have ever herd.

  34. Angle hoover
    November 16, 2010 at 9:58 am

    I wish I had a time mashen and could go back in time and watch him play. He has been my all time Farit compers

  35. March 9, 2011 at 12:03 am

    BEETHOVEN IS ONE OF THE BEST COMPOSERS I HAD EVER HEARD BECUZ IT WAS SAD WHAT HAPPEN TO HIM BECUZ HE COUNDN’T HEAR ANYONE OR LISTEN TO HIS MUSIC.IF I WAS IN HIS PERSONALITITY IT WOULD HAVE BEEN DIFFICULT FOR ME.ALSO,BEETHOVEN WOULD BE IN HIS PIANO 24/7 AND WHEN i FIRST HEARD HIM IT MADE ME WANT TO CRY BECUZ OF THE DEAFNESS THAT HE HAD MUST HAD BEEN DIFFICULT FOR HIM BUT WHAT I HAD HEARD WAS THAT BECUZ OF HIS STUPID DAD BEING DRUNK HE WOULD HIT BEEHOVEN EVERYDAY BUT THATS NOT TRUE BECAUSE HE STARTED TO LOSE HIS HEARING IN HIS RIGHT EAR AND THE LEFT EAR WAS NOT SO BAD.tHEN, WHEN I HEARD MOONLIGHT SONATA IT WAS SAD TO SEE HIM DEAF AND NOT BEEN ABLE TO HEAR BECUZ THAT WAS THE BEST SONG THAT HE MADE BECUZ WHEN I SHOWED IT TO MY FRIENDS THEY WANTED TO CRY BECUZ WHAT I TOLD THEM.

    THANKS BEETHOVEN FOR EVERYTHING YOU DID AND THAT U REST IN PEACE WITH NO ONE TO BOTHER OR TELL U STUFF BYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  36. October 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    I agree:(

  37. Anonymous
    March 24, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    beethovens music is amaziinggg!!!!!

  38. April 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Anhhhhhh I adore beethoven I wich I was him exept the deaf part :)

  39. June 9, 2012 at 3:17 am

    Well,I think Beethoven has a sign of true deternimation and a good role model to us

  40. Anonymous
    October 26, 2012 at 6:01 am

    i hate this ???? web

  41. Anonymous
    October 26, 2012 at 6:01 am

    Looky :Anhhhhhh I adore beethoven I wich I was him exept the deaf part

    shit

  42. Anonymous
    November 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I knew he was deaf and that’s amazing how he can write and play music and make it sound good

  43. Anonymous
    November 9, 2012 at 9:25 am

    cool guy

  44. Anonymous
    November 9, 2012 at 9:26 am

    ihad a project

  45. Anonymous
    January 18, 2013 at 8:53 am

    This is really helpful thanks!!

  46. Linda
    January 27, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Thanx! This wuz abig help 4 my ASL class. But du u dink it may be the abuse as a chld dat cuzed abdomnial panes?

  47. January 30, 2013 at 6:53 pm

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    comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all
    that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  48. February 12, 2013 at 4:15 pm

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  50. Bailey
    March 11, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    I know he was deaf because I am learning it in school right now

  51. Bailey
    March 11, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    That is cool

  52. March 17, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    I am so sorry that he was deaf

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