The magic of music from a man who lived a troubled life

Name a flower: rose. Name a color: red. Name a composer: Beethoven. Say the one thing about Beethoven: He was deaf. There should be no mystery in the world’s enduring romance with a deaf composer: writing magical music and not being able to hear it yourself seems like the saddest fate imaginable. But his childhood and later life were even sadder. Beethoven’s father Johann was a mediocre, insecure, alcoholic court musician under whom Beethoven learned music but suffered an abusive childhood. Family and friends regularly saw the boy at home standing by the cloister and crying. The young Beethoven grew up shy and solitary, often monosyllabic, and socially inept and ill-mannered. The child had suffered and so was moved by the suffering of others; he felt called to help when he could. For the rest of his life, Beethoven was to see his music as the best kind of healing he could offer.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), the German composer and pianist, remains one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music, and his works are among the most performed in the classical music repertoire. Beethoven’s heartbreaking deafness that crept up on him, is the basis of the entire Beethoven legend, turning his not-so-ordinary life into a journey of struggle and transcendence. He didn’t suddenly become deaf; rather he experienced a slow and uneven decline in his ability to hear that continued until he was nearly deaf. Beethoven’s discovery of his deafness was all the more poignant because he was young and at the time at the height of his success. Had he been able to hear, he probably would have become a great composer; his deafness made him the best composer.

A large part of Beethoven’s work has permanent value. Most music lovers would agree that Beethoven’s music is greater than any other music since it appeared. Its greatness derives from what each listener, in their own way, experiences and could best describe as their spiritual content (of the spirit); something that the listener perceives directly, even though he may be totally unable to articulate it. It is only the greatest kind of artist who presents us with experiences that we recognize as primordial and different from anything we have ever known. With this art we come into contact, if only for a moment, with what Shakespeare describes as “the prophetic soul of the wide world/Dreaming of things to come”. It is to this type of art that Beethoven’s music belongs, and is perhaps the greatest of its kind. The spiritual essence of life, as presented by Beethoven, resonates with our deepest experiences; and the solution it presents is consistent with our highest aspirations. His music has the note of authenticity. His grief is real, and so is his heroism.

Beethoven was a deeply troubled man, torn between his idealism about human nature and the misanthropic and spiteful nature of the human being; divided between the spiritual writer of the Solemnis Mass and the solitary man wandering the streets of Vienna at night in solitude. However, although he was neurotic for most of his life, he was in love with his music, responding to his true calling to fully express the gift that was his. In the middle of his life, he wrote to a friend: “Before my departure for the Elysian Fields, I must leave behind what the eternal spirit has infused into my soul…”; and he really did, following his dharma.

It should come as no surprise that Beethoven was deeply inspired by his reading of the Bhagavad Gita. In the psychological turmoil that his life had become, he searched the great literature of the world, found the Gita, and held fast to its wisdom, scribbling the following quote from it in his personal journal: “ Happy is the man who, after having subdued all his passions. , fulfills his duty with his active faculties, without worrying about the result… with equanimity”. Through his music, Beethoven discovered that his work was more powerful than his suffering; and through the search for his luminous music, he gave light to the world.

Read Beethoven, a masterful biography by Maynard Solomon, original in its interpretation of his life and work. As he lay dying, Beethoven momentarily opened his eyes, raised his right hand, closed it into a fist, and died; an example of brave struggle. Beethoven’s battlefield is harmony, where music works through internal divisions and conflicts, giving the world a new way to deal with doubt and despair. Listen to his Ninth Symphony, which concludes with the glorious ode to joy. Better yet, listen to the Piano Sonata Opus 110, truly the music of a seer: wildly free, liberating, brilliantly; and it means, ultimately, the triumph of light over darkness. I could only touch a part of you that nothing else can reach.

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