Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven's Deafness

Beethoven once told Charles Neate (co-founder of the Royal Philharmonic Society) how he had become deaf: "I was once busy writing an opera... I had a very ill-tempered primo tenore to deal with. I had already written two grand airs to the same text, with which he was dissatisfied, and now a third, which, upon trial, he seemed to approve and took away with him. I thanked the stars that I was at length rid of him and sat down immediately to a work which I had laid aside for those airs and which I was anxious to finish. I had not been half an hour at my work when I heard a knock at my door which I immediately recognized as that of my primo tenore. I sprang up from my table under such an excitement of rage that as the man entered the room I threw upon the floor as they do on the stage, coming down upon my hands. When I arose I found myself deaf and have been so ever since. The physicians say the nerve is injured."

Moonlight Sonata

"One evening as [young Beethoven] was out walking he passed a cobbler's house where he heard someone inside practicing one of his compositions. As he stopped to listen he overheard a girl say that she wished she could hear a real musician play it properly.
"Beethoven went into the house and, noticing the young lady at the piano was blind, offered to play the piece for her. He did so for more than an hour and while he did, darkness fell and the lone candle in the room went out.
"Outside in the night sky the moon shone brightly and sent its radiant beams glistening into the room where Beethoven sat playing beautiful music. He was so inspired by the appreciation of his music by the young lady and the beauty of the atmosphere in the room that he composed his famous 'Moonlight Sonata.'"

Water Method

Beethoven often dipped his head in cold water before composing. He also regularly poured pitchers of water upon his hands (while humming) until his clothes were sopping wet, whereupon he would pace around the room for some time before sitting at his table to write. As ludicrous as such scenes appeared, no one dared to disturb Beethoven's meditative ablutions. His hosts, however, were often annoyed to find water dripping through their ceilings from the floor above.

"I carry my thoughts about me for a long time, before I write them down," Beethoven once remarked. "Meanwhile my memory is so tenacious that I am sure never to forget, not even in years, a theme that has once occurred to me. I change many things, discard and try again until I am satisfied. Then, however, then begins in my head the development in every direction and, insomuch as I know exactly what I want, the fundamental idea never deserts me - it arises before me, grows - I see and hear the picture in all its extent and dimensions stand before my mind like a cast, and there remains for me nothing but the labour of writing it down, which is quickly accomplished..."

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