Beethoven bequeathed a ‘deaf aesthetic?’

In a fascinating interview, composer Gabriela Lena Frank, who was born with neurosensory hearing loss, tells The New York Times’ Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim that she can detect Beethoven’s gradual loss of hearing in his music for the piano.

As he became more deaf, Beethoven “demanded pianos with added notes, elongating the pitch range of the keyboard; he asked for physically heavier instruments that resonated with more vibration. More pitch distance and difference, and more vibration and resonance, create a recipe for happiness for a hearing-impaired person, trust me,” Frank says. “A more dissonant and thick language, with clashing frequencies, also causes more vibration, so the language does get more physically visceral that way, too.”

Also, “[I]f I don’t wear my hearing aids for a couple of days, my composing ideas start to become more introverted. This can produce music that is more intellectual, more contrapuntal, more internal, more profound, more spiritual, more trippy. And I think these are also hallmarks of Beethoven’s later music, and not just for piano.”

Frank wonders: “Is it an exaggeration to say that composers after Beethoven, the vast majority of them hearing, were forever changed by a deaf aesthetic? And that the modern-day piano wouldn’t be with us if a deaf person hadn’t demanded its existence?”