Music lovers and researchers alike have long been fascinated by the story of Ludwig van Beethoven who became profoundly deaf as an adult and...

Music lovers and researchers alike have long been fascinated by the story of Ludwig van Beethoven who became profoundly deaf as an adult and could not hear some of his most famous compositions including the Ninth Symphony. Many people have written about Beethoven’s deafness and speculated how he might have been able to compose despite his disability. Robin Wallace, however, is the first musicologist to write about Beethoven’s life and music who has had an intimate experience with deafness. Hearing Beethoven: A Story of Musical Loss and Discovery published by University of Chicago Press in 2018 pairs a new consideration of the effects of Beethoven’s deafness on his life and music with a loving memoir of the last years of Wallace’s first marriage after his wife, Barbara, suddenly lost her hearing. Written for a general audience as well as musicologists, in Hearing Beethoven, Wallace applies what he learned from Barbara’s experiences to Beethoven’s life. Wallace focuses on three main areas: Beethoven’s social life, the technology he used to help him hear speaking voices and music, and his compositional method and music. While providing new insights into Beethoven’s biography and compositions, Wallace also undermines some of the most enduring myths about Beethoven. He reminds us that neither Beethoven nor his wife Barbara overcame the challenges presented by their deafness, instead they strove to find “wholeness by learning to live within them.”

Robin Wallace is a Professor of Musicology in the School of Music at Baylor University. He has published widely on the critical reception of Beethoven’s music including his first book, Beethoven’s Critics: Aesthetic Dilemmas and Resolutions During the Composer’s Lifetime (University of Cambridge Press, 1986). In addition to his scholarly publications, Wallace is the author of an introductory music textbook from Oxford University Press titled Take Note: An Introduction to Music through Active Listening.


Kristen M. Turner, Ph.D. is a lecturer at North Carolina State University in the music department. Her work centers on American musical culture at the turn of the twentieth century and has been published in several journals and essay collections.

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