Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament Demonstrates the Consequences of Untreated Hearing loss
Ludwig Van Beethoven, one of the most influential composers of all time, started to lose his hearing in his late-twenties and as a result, although he continued to compose, distanced himself from friends and family. At the age of 32, following bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts, he wrote the following letter – now known as the Heiligenstadt Testament – to be opened by his brothers after his death, in which he explains his anti-social behaviour and affliction. Curiously, he chose not to write his brother Johann’s name anywhere in the letter, instead leaving blank spaces.
Beethoven died 25 years later.
For my brothers Carl and [Johann] Beethoven
Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me. You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you. From childhood on, my heart and soul have been full of the tender feeling of goodwill, and I was even inclined to accomplish great things. But, think that for six years now I have been hopelessly afflicted, made worse by senseless physicians, from year to year deceived with hopes of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible).
Though born with a fiery, active temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was soon compelled to isolate myself, to live life alone. If at times I tried to forget all this, oh, how harshly was I flung back by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing. Yet it was impossible for me to say to people, “Speak Louder, shout, for I am deaf”. Oh, how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection, a perfection such as few in my profession enjoy or ever have enjoyed. – Oh I cannot do it; therefore forgive me when you see me draw back when I would have gladly mingled with you.