ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library

A Brief Consideration of the Works and Struggles of Ludwig Van Beethoven:

By Jacob Peete

A Brief Consideration of the Works and Struggles of Ludwig Van Beethoven

The topic of Beethoven becoming deaf is one that illustrates the importance of not only ASL as a language, but also ASL culture. Be it that Beethoven was a musician, relying on his ears for his talent, his interpersonal struggles all resulted from an embarrassment of his loss of hearing. There were not any support groups nor was it openly accepted to admit his deafness in his day, so he became more and more isolated. This was, in turn, was misinterpreted by his contemporaries. "Malevolent, stubborn and misanthropical, how ye wrong me! Ye know not the secret cause"(Beethoven, 1802), as he put in his own words in his Heligenstadt Testament.

Beethoven was a virtuoso pianist before he later became one of the most influential western musical composers of all time. Not so well known is that Beethoven's "career as a virtuoso pianist was brought to an end when he began to experience his first symptoms of deafness." (Lane, 2006) Beethoven even described himself as being at times "... the unhappiest of God's creatures..." (Prevot, 2001) because of his struggle with loss of hearing. Another of Beethoven's confessions in his 1801 letter to Karl Amenda he tells Karl "I beg of you to keep the matter of my deafness a profound secret to be confined to nobody, no matter whom..." (Prevot, 2001) He thought, and possibly rightly so, that he would be ostracized by his friends and contemporaries if they ever found out about his loss of hearing. The quote in particular shows how vital the preservation of ASL culture is to those that are deaf. Being deaf is not something to be ashamed of and should never again be something to hide like it was back in Beethoven's time.

Since this was not the popular belief among his associates in his time it just about drove Beethoven to commit suicide at some points. He wrote in the Heligenstadt Testament, "...I was forced to isolate myself. I was misunderstood and rudely repulsed because I was yet unable to say to people 'Speak louder, shout, for i am deaf.'" (Beethoven, 1802) He even said in the same letter "With joy I hasten to meet death." (Beethoven, 1802) It appears that he really had no one that understood what he was going through or how to relate to him.
The reason I found this topic so interesting is because of how much we can all learn from this one person's struggle. Obviously deaf people have felt similar feelings throughout most of history simply because of a lack of understanding from the rest of the world. If ASL and deaf culture had been back in Beethoven's time, he would have been able to live his life without the constant burden of trying to hide his hearing loss. He felt cornered and alone as shown from his various writings, yet was one of the most talented people ever to live. He seemed to live without any sense of community, without any true support from other's that knew what he was going through. When he was completely deaf, for the last 10 years of his life, he was not even be able to communicate the simplest things without struggle. His story is a good reminder of why the teaching of sign language as well as the teaching of deaf culture to deaf and hearing people alike is so valuable to our society.


1. Lane, William (2006). Beethoven: The Immortal. Retrieved May 1, 2007. .
2. Beethoven, Ludwig van. (1802). The Heiligenstadt Testament (translation). Retrieved May 2, 2007.
3. Dominique, Prevot. (2001). Beethoven's Deafness. Retrieved May 2, 2007.


Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

Another way to help is to buy something from the ASLU "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)   CHECK IT OUT >

Bandwidth slow?  Check out "" (a free mirror of less traffic, fast access)   VISIT >