Like many a musical child, I remember being taught that Ludwig van Beethoven had become completely deaf by the time he composed his most magnificent symphonies. He never heard so much as a single note of his most famous pieces.
So why did I get goosebumps as I sat next to my own musical daughter and heard the tale yet again from Philadelphia Orchestra Assistant Conductor Cristian Macelaru at a recent preconcert talk? Because life experience now gives such stories deeply personal perspective.
Maestro Macelaru described how, when Beethoven realized there was no reversing his descent into silence, he began to fill notebook after notebook with simple scales. The composer was contemplating suicide. But, as Beethoven wrote, “it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me.” And so he toiled for days upon end to commit perfectly to memory each distinct tone of every musical scale.
If not for the simple scales transcribed like a beginner student, there would be no Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Or Beethoven’s Third, which describes through instrumental music his struggles with failing health and which he called “The Heroic Symphony.”
It was completed not long after his return from a respite in the German town of Heiligenstadt where he penned a secret letter to his brothers, revealed to them after his death. (Don’t leave patientlovingcare.com until you’ve read it here.)
So how did Beethoven (or at least his music) get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice, my dear. Practice.”