Touched by Fire

From The Washington Post:Beethoven_1

BEETHOVEN: The Universal Composer by Edmund Morris

Like most composers, Beethoven was writing music before he formally knew how. He was born on or about Dec. 16, 1770, in Bonn, Germany, into what would now be considered a frightfully dysfunctional family. Father Johann was autocratic and abusive, and it is likely that his son’s lifelong hostility toward authority of any kind dates from this initial filial rebellion. Unlike such predecessors as Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart, all of whom managed to make some temperamental accommodation with their enormous gifts, Beethoven found his genius difficult to bear. As Morris puts it, “Ludwig’s eruptive talent could be a curse as well as a blessing. Music was like magma inside him.” He grew up to be prideful, ill-mannered and intemperate, and he not only burned but incinerated bridges with many who would gladly have helped him.

By the time he turned 30, it was obvious to Beethoven that he was losing his hearing. (“How could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection?” he wrote, miserably.) He was all but completely deaf by 1817. Yet he continued to insist upon conducting his own music, and his players were forced to rely upon the movements of the first violinist for guidance while the composer flailed away in his own world. He died on March 26, 1827: The legend — endorsed by Morris — has it that his last act was to sit up in his deathbed and curse the thunderstorm that raged outside.

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