Beethoven's Bluff

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Read one of the articles in the digital book “Risks about music: essays – repetitions – tests”

Recent discoveries in the area of ​​genetic medicine related to research on the cause of death of great composers of the past have unveiled truly bombastic revelations in recent months in the world of musical culture.

Along the lines of what has been happening with research into the death of Chopin, unveiling his fatal illness through DNA analysis of remains of his heart among the traces left by this organ on the pillars of one of the main churches in Warsaw, for the which his heart was, following his wish, transplanted from his deceased, from Paris to the Polish capital, by his sister in 1849, leading researchers in genetic medicine have carried out various tests on traces of Beethoven's urine left on remnants of his clothing and in genetic residues of saliva cells that resisted time in the lead wine glasses that the composer used to use when tasting his wines – in fact, almost always of dubious quality, as verified by reports of the time –, with a view to clarifying of the real reasons for his passing.

The assumption that Beethoven would have died as a result of the gradual deterioration of his organism due to the harmful effects of the lead in these goblets and alcohol or, on the contrary, that he would have fatally suffered, like Schubert and Schumann, as a result of syphilis resulting from the fact of having (like the other two great masters) assiduously frequented brothels remains open. However, genetic analyses, in their current research stages, considerably advanced, allowed researchers to relate the traced genes with the cochlear structure and with the anatomy of Beethoven's inner and outer ears, revealing, to everyone's surprise, something completely different. unexpected and that would be considered as totally absurd by anyone who even ventured such a hypothesis, apart from the advances of science, let alone by his contemporaries:


The cochlear and anatomical structure of Beethoven's ear as well as its functioning were perfect! The hypothesis now raised by scientists from the Europäischer Verein für geschichtlichegenetische Forschung (European Society for Historical-Genetic Research) of the European Community, based in Vienna – a hypothesis shared by me, since, as a teenager, I was affected by the same dilemma to which we will allude shortly and by the same psychic syndrome, viscerally doubting musicality of speech, whose profound crisis resulted in my deciding to stop speaking (which, fortunately, did not last for more than a single day, as I remained, in a way, still a relatively sociable being) –, is that Beethoven would have simulated his deafness so that, in a way, he could also remain silent. This hypothesis, resulting from genetic research, was personally confirmed to me by e-mail by the chief scientist of the Austrian team leading the research, prof. dr. Klaus-Peter Lügner.

Would such a Beethovenian option have elapsed from any meaning of a philosophical-Pythagorean nature, in an existential abstention from verbal sounds in the face of human and proper ignorance??? It is known that pretenders to the Pythagorean sect went through a long period of five years of silence (echemythia), during which they did not utter a word and listened to the Master's teachings without seeing the origin of the sounds, until they were admitted into the bosom of the brotherhood divided between the mathematicians (Μαθηματικοι = mathematikoi) and acousmatics (Ακουσματικοι = akousmatikoi), and that this ritualistic conduct of hearing without seeing continued in the practice of acousmatics. Would Beethoven have been a revolted post-Pythagorean composer, adept of the precepts of the acousmatics who worshiped silence in order to listen fully??? If so, why did he choose to emulate his deafness??? Could Beethoven be foreshadowing a Wittgenstein who, when uttering his famous motto, asserted that “about what one is not sure, better to remain silent”??? Would Beethoven, through a reversal of such acousmatic attitude, have simulated his hearing impairment in order to be able to deprive himself of the word???

As everything indicates, however, Beethoven's option for silence resulted, let's see, above all from a strong conviction in his own knowledge. new boom in musicals, expressive, relating to the sounds of the Verb. If the word is to be used, let it be in the most expressive way possible, and Beethoven's bad-tempered indignation is therefore transvested into simulated deafness. He could not, at that time, venture into a radical expansion of words, into a temporal amplification of their phonological structures – as I modestly undertook with the invention of my pronunciation forms –, since phonology would still need about a hundred years to be born… Even genius has the constraints of his time. And Beethoven did what he could, paying the price of his acute neurosis!

In response to the attention addressed to me by Prof. Lügner, I took a step, I believe, important and adhered to the research of this European Society - which was, to my satisfaction and honor, accepted immediately and with enthusiasm by the scientists who coordinate the research that I report here, in a pioneering way, in our country –, adding to genetic medicine the very genetic musicology, and even though my conviction was not exactly based on the analysis of the manuscripts of his ninth symphony, but rather only in the textual content used in this key work of the Beenthovenian legacy, I hypothesized that such Beethovenian simulation was motivated by his distrust of the less than musical use of words, as used by bourgeois societies.

Deeply skeptical, therefore, in relation to the expressio verborum away from the standard speech of everyday life, Beethoven intended to insulate himself from his verbal communication with people. He had no choice but to form an insurmountable barrier between himself and the others. To do so, he had to pretend to be deaf, to accentuate his acute neurasthenia, frowning and considerably reducing the number of baths he took a month and, once simulating deafness, to become mute. He thus became incommunicable and smelly, a being asocial, except through her music, sublime to the point that her contemporaries, this time, in front of her, made themselves completely deaf.

The “almost genetic” hypothesis from the point of view of musicology, raised by me and immediately accepted by European scientists, is corroborated by the clairvoyant textual insertion that Beethoven made, in his ninth symphony, of a sentence authored by you, personal, preceding the text by the poet Friedrich Schiller that serves as the basis for his magnum opus. For as we well know, the soloist, imposing, serious voice erupts with the Verb, in the last part of the work, the orchestral texture, and with the following words:

Oh Friends, not such sounds!

But let us sing sweeter and more joyful sounds! [1]

Now, this opening sentence – and few realize this – is not part of Schiller's poetry, To Joy, from 1786, chosen by Beethoven for his ninth symphony! Between not wanting to hear and being deaf, there is a whole ocean! With the emergence of this phrase, so needy and at the same time so humanitarian, echoing the ideas of the recent French Revolution and calling for fraternity at the same time as for new sounds, Beethoven made, in his own hand, a last appeal to human sensitivity to wake up, realize its strategic organic dissimulation and become aware of the expressive potential of sounds. But more than with men, Beethoven felt like a brother to the sounds themselves. If the sounds are to continue to be sung that way, then better not listen to them.

Although my hypothesis is based on this overwhelming evidence and that, this time, it was accepted by the team of European researchers, I was asked by prof. Lügner and his main assistant, prof. dr. Christoph von Possenreißer, director of the Zentrum für musik wissenschaftlichegenetische Forschungen (Musicological-Genetic Research Center) of Nordrheinwestfalen, headquartered in Bonn, Germany, if there would be any more evidence in Beethoven's score that would corroborate my assertion, to which I replied in the affirmative. Beethoven's simulated deafness is unveiled by the outpouring of this appeal, in a loud and clear tone, for new sounds, in manifest rejection of those who surrounded him, but his strategy is, effectively, previously reinforced and symptomatically ratified by the use in the same work, of insistent way, Recitative purely orchestral, unusually Mute, which foreshadows what Felix Mendelssohn would begin to do with the song two years after Beethoven's death (thus in 1829) with his Lieder without words (songs without words). If Beethoven took the voice into the symphonic genre, he silenced the Word there in the midst of its most typical genre. To punctuate his detachment from the lack of expression in the commonplace use of words, nothing is more effective than making use of the musical genre that uses them in the closest way to the banalized verbal inflections of ordinary speech, amputating, however, precisely the Verb itself: an emblematic Rezitativ ohne Worte, therefore.

Figure 1 – Light and shadow on Beethovenian genetic research: above, Professor Klaus-Peter Lügner at age 17; below, Professor Christoph von Possenreißer aged 46. Interestingly, in these photos both European researchers resemble some features of Beethoven

Once such a textual graft of his own authorship and such an unusual use of the recitative were understood by his audience – which was not, by the way, until today! –, Beethoven certainly would have decided to discard in the trash of history, once and for all, his devices against deafness, which he used with great difficulty only to pretend to be deaf in front of that society insensitive to the general musicality of sounds, whether those of everyday life that affect us. surround us, whether from the phonemes that weave our expressive intentions into the phonology of words, not to mention the generalized insensitivity and deafness to their own music. In a sense, he anticipated, with his act, by almost 140 years what Luciano Berio would do when he composed, in 1961, Face care, electroacoustic work based on the vocal sounds emitted by Cathy Berberian and combined with electronic sounds, in which any known word is almost completely absent – ​​with the symptomatic exception of the word passwords, precisely palavras, in Italian –, in a critique, as the Italian composer himself so well defines, of the radio (on which and for which the work was made), “the greatest dispenser of useless words”. Useless – for both the one and the other – because badly spoken, pronounced in a standard way, dead from the point of view of expression, standardized by the muting of affects and cowardice in the face of expressive non-extension, durative, of their sounds.

For it was to this social muting and deafening that Beethoven responded with his ninth symphony and with his bluff, making himself, with his perfect ears, deaf and almost mute, a strategy now unveiled by genetic science, with a small contribution from genetic musicology, undertaken by this modest being who writes these meager, however , we believe, striking lines.

* Flo Menezes is a composer, author of about one hundred works in various musical genres. He is the founder and director of Studio PANaroma de Música Eletroacústica at Unesp, where he is a professor of electroacoustic composition.


Flo Menezes. Risks on music: rehearsals – repetitions – exams. São Paulo: Editora Unesp Digital, 2018.


[1] "O Freunde, nicht diese Töne! /Sondern laßt uns angenehmere / anstimmen und freudenvollere!"

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