Saturday, December 1, 2018

Robin Wallace's "Hearing Beethoven"

Robin Wallace is professor of musicology at Baylor University. He is the author of Beethoven’s Critics and Take Note: An Introduction to Music through Active Listening.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hearing Beethoven: A Story of Musical Loss and Discovery Hearing Beethoven, and reported the following:
Oddly enough, page 99 contains the idea for the book in a nutshell. As I write about the adjustments that were made to my late wife Barbara’s cochlear implant to enable her to hear better, I explain that Beethoven made similar experiments with ear trumpets, using different ones in different environments.

Barbara became profoundly deaf in 2003, the result of radiation treatment 24 years earlier to treat a brain tumor. It was the greatest shock of either of our lives—greater by far than the cancer diagnosis had been for Barbara. She never believed she would die of cancer, but deafness was a fact, coarse and unavoidable. It was the kind of Very Bad Thing that our culture has trouble acknowledging. In Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler, a Duke University theologian who studies the American prosperity gospel, writes of the utter inability of the religion she both loves and hates to assimilate her own cancer diagnosis. I learned what she meant within weeks of the onset of Barbara’s deafness. “Maybe there’s a reason this happened,” somebody told me. “Maybe this will help you understand Beethoven better.”

I had been known as a Beethoven scholar since my first book, Beethoven’s Critics, was published in 1986. I didn’t want to be told that the catastrophe that had befallen my wife was God’s way of getting me to write another book. I found the idea offensive, as though a rosy panacea could simply cancel out the deafness, the cancer, and Barbara’s whole life. Her life and her suffering hadn’t happened in order to help me or anybody else understand Beethoven. But as Barbara began to use technology to recover as much hearing as possible, I saw surprising things take place in the wiring of her brain, and I began to suspect that Beethoven must have had similar experiences.

Barbara died in 2011. I grieved, deeply, and as part of the grieving I began to realize that I did indeed have a book to write. It couldn’t be rushed; it was fifteen years after the onset of Barbara’s deafness that Hearing Beethoven was published. In it, I speak of how Barbara and Beethoven both pursued a vocation, and both lived fuller and more challenging lives than they might have otherwise. It turns out that Beethoven taught me to love Barbara better. I can live with that.
Learn more about Hearing Beethoven at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue