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Beethoven was still in his twenties when deafness began to overwhelm him, a composer-musician whose life’s fulfillment hinged upon his ability to communicate sound. Now, how could he communicate if he could not hear? By the age of 18, he had become the mainstay of his family because his father, like his grandmother, developed the sickness we call alcoholism and was unable any longer to meet the responsibilities of daily family life. Ten years later this curse of deafness struck, just when he had begun his career as a composer. In turn, Beethoven cursed his Creator, cursed his own existence, fled from society, and thought of fleeing from despair through suicide.
Out of his defiance came this affirmation, “I will take Fate by the throat; it shall not wholly overwhelm me!” In the midst of this fervent suffering, this affirmation yielded to a powerful submission: the suffering must be accepted. Then a new sense of creative strength broke into the dark night of his soul. This strength was woven into beauty, into symphonies and string quartets which nobly express the experience of human suffering and the realization of human achievement. Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica, followed the spiritual crisis in which awareness of creative power gave him the victory in his battle with despair, his battle with himself. Hitherto unknown greatness broke through his music, and to the end of his life he considered this work the finest of all he had ever done.
When utterly unable to hear, Beethoven composed the choral finale for the Ninth Symphony. That theme of “Joy” is now sung worldwide week after week. From a person who was completely isolated from the world of sound as we experience it, came the tune which is sung to such trumpet words of affirmation as these:
Joyful, Joyful, we adore You,
God of Glory, God of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before You,
Hail You as the sun above…
Ever singing march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife;
Joyful music lifts us sunward
In the triumph song of life.