But Beethoven the man was not the Beethoven of our imaginations.His story, for all its wonder, is no myth; it offers unfussy but lasting lessons about music, hearing, and disability.The English Broadwood piano he owned during the last decade of his life was both louder and muddier sounding than the ones with which he grew up—again, the exact opposite of what someone with hearing loss would seem to require.
But Beethoven the man was not the Beethoven of our imaginations.
When you look at virtually any Beethoven manuscript or sketch, you can see that he was creating music on paper, frequently crossing out and replacing things that didn’t look right, or getting carried away with rhythmic, repetitive writing patterns that mirror the emphatic rhythms of much of his music.
He heard what he saw and felt as his pen crossed the paper again and again in arcs and arabesques of musical creativity.
If this story were true, it would demystify how Beethoven composed in his late years after his ears had failed him.
But Beethoven’s creative process was actually less daunting than the myth would have us believe.
Beethoven created these new textures and sonorities because he was being led by his eyes as much as by his memories of sound.
Rather than detracting from his creative process, his deafness added dimensions to these late works that would not have been there otherwise.
And Beethoven wasn’t a “supercrip,” the term for a person who responds to a disability in ways that inspire others but also set unreasonable expectations.
He never claimed to be overcoming his hearing loss.
Recently researchers recreated the resonator; the results can be heard on a new recording of his last three sonatas made by fortepianist Tom Beghin.
The preparations for Beghin’s recording made it clear just how important touch had become in Beethoven’s experience of music in his last years.