Beethoven and Me: Deaf

A while back, I blogged here about my irritation with Beethoven for his emotionalism and his egotism in expecting listeners to sit through needless variations and repeats in his later works such as his ninth symphony. I compared him unfavorably with my two favorite composers, Bach and Mozart, both highly rational and concise.

As noted here in earlier blogs, I knew when I was six years old that I was born to write, but I tried to escape my fate. My most serious effort was my devotion to music. As a child, I taught myself to read music and to play the piano and devoted much of my leisure time to listening to classical music and, eventually, trying my hand at composing. I went on to take a BA in music at the University of California, Berkeley.

Over time, I came to understand that there was no escape: my purpose as a human being was to write. But with an education in music and so much experience in the art, music has remained a key element in my life.

So my feelings about Beethoven are firmly grounded in education and knowledge. But Beethoven and I both suffered from near-fatal failing for a musician: deafness. I don’t know the source of Beethoven’s affliction, but mine is obvious: combat. For much of my career as a spy (music and writing don’t pay well, but spying does, and I had a family to support), I operated on the battlefield, providing signals intelligence support (the intercept and exploitation of the enemy’s radio communications) to U.S. and friendly forces. And I escaped under fire when Saigon fell in April, 1975. That meant that I was repeatedly exposed to gunfire and shelling. My hearing was severely damaged.

More next time.

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