In the last decade of his life, completely deaf, Ludwig van Beethoven created his Ninth Symphony – the apotheosis of a brilliant career and arguably the greatest piece of music ever written. Before that, Beethoven seriously considered suicide because of his increasing deafness.
Arthur Brooks, writing for the Washington Post in 2019, reframed the artist-overcomes-suicidal-tendencies-to-create-masterpiece trope. What if instead of overcoming deafness, it was actually the deafness that enabled the composition? Brooks argues that, without the influence of hearing the competing compositions of his time, Beethoven was able to imagine a truly phenomenal work. Deafness freed Beethoven as a composer because he no longer had society’s soundtrack in his ears.
What if, instead of thinking of middle age as the beginning of the end, we thought of it as the beginning of our best work?
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