The man who never gave up

beethovenThis inspirational German man started to become famous in his early 20s in Vienna. My first impression of him is intensity and anger. His face looks out, with sharply-arched eyebrows, but not in a frown, rather in concentrated passion and creativity. For some people this state brings great peace.

For him it brings extraordinary noise. It is as if he is about to explode and shout from his compressed thin lips. His eyes are wide open, looking into the distance, hardly noticing anything happening around him: his untidy lodgings, his scattered notebooks with barely legible marks on them.

He is composing, or more likely correcting a proof, pen in hand. The book is not resting on the table, but held up to the pen as if to give closer connection with him.

He is in fact well-connected in society, which recognises his unique talents, but he has never been able to capture the love of a woman despite several serious efforts. There is perhaps loneliness in his eyes and face because of this.

He is capable of charm, but certainly is not someone you would invite to a child’s birthday party. His business depends on the chattering classes of Vienna buying copies of his printed music as they would buy books. He was the first composer to use this business model successfully. He cultivated his clientele by offering piano lessons which must have demanded huge patience from a super-talented player as he.

His long straggly hair covers his ears. What use would there be to expose them? By the time of this portrait he was completely deaf. Buzzing started when he was about 26. He had lost 60% of his hearing by the age of 31. By 46 his was stone deaf. This is why he inspires me. He never gave up. He eventually had to stop conducting and piano playing. But he wrote and wrote. He continued to compose and innovate. It was all in his head. He never heard a note of it for real. His 9th Symphony is about peace between all men after the long Napoleonic wars. Peace.

And now I ask you please to take 27 minutes of your time and listen to his Piano Sonata 32. His last sonata. It is also about chaos turning to peace. In particular please listen to the second movement, which starts slowly, and which, for me, is his thanks for the world-beating talent he was given, even though his hearing was taken away. He never ever heard this on a piano but only in his head. I give thanks that I can hear it in both. : Claudio Arrau – Beethoven Sonata No. 32

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