Beethoven could hear after all, new research reveals in composer’s 250th anniversary year

New research of Ludwig van Beethoven’s private conversations suggests the composer, born 250 years ago this year, was not completely deaf – contrary to popular belief.

Theodore Albrecht, Professor of Musicology at Kent State University, Ohio, has spent over a decade translating a set of primary source documents called the “conversation books”, which feature the handwriting of the German composer and his friends. Volume 3 of the translation project, published by Boydell & Brewer, will dispel the historical misconception that Beethoven had been overcome by total deafness.

The material uncovered suggests that Beethoven could hear, mostly with his left ear, during legendary moments of music history, including: Beethoven’s meeting with the young composer Franz Liszt in April 1823, the premiere of the Ninth Symphony in May 1824, and Beethoven’s last “premiere” of the String Quartet, Op. 130, in March 1826. It was previously thought that Beethoven had lost all of his hearing by 1816.

“In April, 1823, Beethoven told a deaf acquaintance in writing that, by not using ear trumpets too much, he had been able to preserve the hearing in his left ear. Factual flashes like this occur constantly in the conversation books and make them both informative and enjoyable reading.”

– Theodore Albrecht, editor and translator of the Beethoven Conversation Books

Beethoven’s Conversation Books, sometimes in archaic Austrian dialect, have been unavailable to an English audience until now. By 1818, Beethoven’s deafness had worsened to the extent that he began to carry blank books with him, so that his friends could write their sides of conversations. Today, 139 of these booklets survive, covering up to the composer’s death in 1827. They provide fascinating insights into life in post-Napoleonic Europe, and Beethoven’s daily routine and shopping habits.

The revelation coincides with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birthday in 2020, which is being celebrated by the classical music world with festivals and concerts worldwide.

Beethoven’s Conversation Books: Volume 3: Nos. 17 to 31 (May 1822 to May 1823) will be published by Boydell & Brewer on 15 May 2020. Hardback, ISBN: 9781783271528, £45. Further details can be found here:

Theodore Albrecht has also compiled his evidence in an article “The Hearing Beethoven”, which will appear in English in the American Beethoven Society’s Journal in Spring 2020, and in German in the Wiener Oboen-Journal (Vienna Oboe Journal), later this year.

– ENDS –

Notes to Editors:

For more information, please contact:

Catherine Watts at [email protected] or tel. 01394 610602

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