Beethoven's deafness and his three styles (video)

That Beethoven suffered from deafness is well known, but how did the progression of the condition affect his composition? In this 8-minute video the Isola string quartet demonstrate how his style changed over time:

Read about the science behind the video in the paper, Beethoven's deafness and his three styles, from BMJ.

Switch to lower notes

Details of Beethoven’s hearing loss can be derived from his own letters. His left ear was affected first, and he reported bilateral tinnitus, high tone hearing loss associated with poor speech discrimination, and recruitment with loud noises. After 1812 people had to shout to make themselves understood.

In 1818 Beethoven started to communicate through notebooks.

There are no reports that he could still understand spoken conversation after 1825, and his deafness was almost complete by then.

The symptoms suggest a sensorineural hearing loss with its origin in the organ of Corti.

The BMJ article claims that Beethoven's progressive deafness shaped his later musical style as he switched to lower notes as he had difficulty hearing higher ones.

Lead poisoning

The famous composer's health has been a focus of research in recent years. "Lead poisoning made Beethoven grumpy", summarized Chicago-Sun Times profoundly in 2005.


In addition to a number of other chronic diseases, Beethoven apparently had asthma too. He is listed among the "Faces of Asthma", on the "Breath of Life" website maintained by the NLM.


Beethoven’s deafness. BMJ 2011; 343 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d7589 (Published 20 December 2011). Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7589
Noise Chart as It Relates to Hearing Damage and Hearing Loss

1 comment:

  1. This is a fascinating article. My wife is an opera singer and has her masters in music. She will love this.