A Hopeless Composer
As a child, Ludwig van Beethoven impressed his teacher, Mozart, with his musical talent. After his mother died, however, Beethoven abandoned his studies and returned home. A few years later, another great composer, Joseph Haydn, invited Beethoven to study with him. Haydn soon regretted making the invitation. His new student constantly broke some of music’s most important rules. Furthermore, he seemed slow, plodding, and lacking in talent. The two parted ways. Haydn later advised an inquirer to avoid Beethoven because he “had never learned anything and would never do anything in a decent style.” Another of Beethoven's music teachers said, “As a composer, he is hopeless.” Beethoven continued to try other music teachers, but they also gave up on him.
Finally, he gave up looking for music teachers and sought out patrons until he was able to support himself as his work became more popular. By age twenty-eight, the composer and pianist was making a good living in Vienna performing piano concerts and selling his compositions to publishers.
Despite Beethoven's popular succes, critics viciously attacked his work. During his lifetime, his symphonies were called “harsh and bizarre,” “an orgy of vulgar noise,” “laborious without effect,” and “a crude monstrosity.” Beethoven ignored his critics; in part because a far greater problem plagued him. Beginning in his late twenties, he experienced hearing problems and periods of deafness. He tried countless cures and treatments, but by the time he was fifty-five years old, he had gone completely deaf.
Just as he did not let the critics stop him, Beethoven refused to let his deafness end his career. Although he contemplated suicide, he abandoned the idea, writing that “it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce.” Near the end of his life, he went into isolation, sharing little of what he wrote with the public. Whether it was this isolation, his deafness, or the fact that he felt he no longer had to please his contemporaries, these final works possessed a complexity that would not be appreciated until long after Beethoven’s death.