With all the serious and depressing news about Coronavirus, this month for something different I would like to talk about how severe hearing loss affected possibly the greatest classical composer of all time.
Ludwig von Beethoven was born in 1770 in Germany making this year the 250th anniversary of his birth. He became a giant in the classical music world during his lifetime. However, he was tormented for most of his productive life with profound hearing loss and excruciating abdominal pain. The earliest indication of his hearing loss was first reported when he was 26 years old and progressed to complete deafness by 1816 at the age of 46.
The “medical” treatments for both his hearing loss and abdominal pains included ice cold baths which of course were not effective and of course tormented the poor man! He endured bloodletting, and the use of leeches for the deafness. To compensate for the loss, Beethoven’s piano in his studio was triple strung to amplify the loudness. He wore special wardrobes that were designed to enhance sound enough for him to hear and to compose.
It was reported that when the 9th Symphony premiered, that there was a colleague in the orchestra pit keeping the tempo so that Beethoven could visually follow and present it to the orchestra and chorus. At the completion of the performance he was unaware of the thunderous applause until someone turned him around to face the audience. A study of his notes reveals that his hearing loss complaints are strikingly similar to what our patients describe as the symptoms of their hearing loss, including tinnitus, and inability to understand speech in both quiet and in a background of noise.
There have been many theories about the cause of Beethoven’s hearing loss. His ears were studied after his death and it was reported that there were only wisps of the hearing nerve visible arising from his inner ear. Some have speculated that Beethoven suffered from a disease process that primarily affects the bones of the middle ear, or some type of autoimmune disease that had destroyed his hearing. Miraculously, a clump of his hair, cut at the time of his death, was found by a collector of Beethoven manuscripts. An analysis of his hair determined that Beethoven had been exposed to unbelievably high toxic levels of lead, leading to a disease known as plumbism. He was presumably poisoned by high levels of lead in the wine that he drank and from his earthenware that he ate from. The high lead levels could account for his deafness and horrific abdominal complaints.
The investigations into the cause of his hearing loss emphasize that even today there is value in a medical assessment of hearing loss whether it is ringing in the ears (tinnitus) or hearing loss. We often uncover treatable causes of hearing loss, or provide amplification solutions to improve the ability to communicate in our hearing world.
So, take the time to go and listen to the works of this giant of classical music as we celebrate his 250th birthday and do not forget to have your own hearing checked and be medically examined for possible treatable causes of your hearing loss. We promise NO ICE WATER BATHS