Beethoven: Black and Deaf

by Amber

(Arizona, USA)

I don’t feel like I know enough about Deaf History to have an actual favorite yet, but Ludwig van Beethoven has been in my thoughts a lot lately due to recently learning that he was black.

It’s amazing to me that history can be manipulated so drastically that we could have such a large misconception about a person so fundamentally important to the music world. It makes me wonder what else was erased from history, and if there were influential Deaf people that we don’t know about simply because people refused to tell their stories.

As for Beethoven himself, I really admire his dedication to his music, despite his tinnitus making it increasingly difficult for him, in addition to his chronic abdominal pain. He pushed through suicidal thoughts, and eventually started to tailor his music to what he could hear and feel, injecting the rhythm from his African heritage, creating some of the most unique music of his age because of it.

I haven’t read anything about Beethoven learning sign language, but even without it, his friends were very accommodating for him. They would write down what was happening in their conversation, and he would either respond aloud or write his response. It makes me wonder how different Beethoven’s life would have been if he had learned sign language and had a support group of other Deaf people to communicate with and normalize his condition. Would he have led a healthier life? Would he have known better ways to deal with his rapid hearing loss?

I’ve only just started to learn about Beethoven, but he really does astound me. His symphonies are beautiful, easily earning the spot in history they’ve been placed, and he was able to make these pieces despite, and most importantly, because he was deaf. He knew exactly what he was doing while probably simultaneously feeling like he had no idea what to do at all. The fact that he moved forward, despite everything pushing him back is incredibly inspiring to me. He’s a man that I’d love to learn more about, and a great way to dive into the subject of Deaf history.

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