Inspiration from a Deaf, Nutty Genius

A deaf bloke with dubious personal hygiene. A complete nutter who died nearly 200 years ago. And a modern day inspiration for artists and business people alike. All in the same person. Who'd have thunk it? But Beethoven was, and is, all of those things. In Search of Beethoven is an engrossing new feature length documentary by Phil Grabsky. As a movie alone it is a winner. If the enthusiasm of the interviewees doesn't wash away any reticence you may have about classical music, the music itself will break the strongest emotional levee. And it is stunningly shot to boot.

Then there is the story - and the inspiration.

It is easy to forget that those artists we now see as icons in their fields struggled, in their day, with all the same issues modern artists, and indeed business owners, struggle with today. Beethoven's livelihood came from writing music, and there were times when there wasn't much livelihood to be had. But he was also competitive, and a strong believer in what he was doing, and these things not only kept him going but prevented him from being just another run-of-the-mill composer.

Beethoven was driven to excel by a determination to place himself above Mozart, Joseph Haydn and other composers in the Viennese pecking order. He wrote music which was astonishingly hard to play - in some cases which, at the time, only he could play - to break the order of things.

He wasn't afraid to break the rules. As the experts in the movie explain, he repeatedly eschewed convention in the structure of his pieces, in the complexity of the playing required and even in the length of the concerts he was prepared to put on. Rather than 'soften' his tone to suit the pianos of the day, he had piano makers make stronger and louder instruments.

Creativity was Beethoven's most cherished skill. In the letters quoted in the film, he repeatedly refers to his 'art' being the thing that urges him on. He comes across as having an incredibly focused purpose - something which probably drove those who knew him up the wall, but which was ultimately behind his prolificacy.

Perhaps Beethoven's greatest strength was his ability to work against adversity. For the greater part of his career he was hampered by various health issues, most notably tinnitus and increasing, then total, deafness. By 1811 he could no longer perform in public and the resulting angst very nearly led him to take his own life.

Thankfully he didn't, because he subsequently gave us a lot more music including the awe inspiring Ninth Symphony. That this symphony was composed while Beethoven was totally deaf - he never heard a note of the final composition - is remarkable enough. But even with that constraint he still challenged convention: the Ninth was the first symphony to include voice in the score.

My eldest daughter and I both left this movie abuzz. She found inspiration to practice harder on her flute. I found inspiration to write more, better and no matter what. A five star classic.

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