The story of Ludwig Van Beethoven crushes me.
Unlike most of my other musical and pop culture references, Beethoven truly needs no introduction. He is one of the hallmark geniuses of the past 150 years and the 4th movement of his 9th symphony (that includes the instantly recognizable “Ode To Joy”) is arguably the greatest musical accomplishment of all time. But more on this later.
Like most masters, Beethoven decided to dedicate himself fully to his craft at a young age, realizing that he had an innate talent to hear music differently than others. And his early works were and are highly regarded pieces that are so ubiquitous at this point that it is hard to imagine music existing without them.
As famous as Beethoven is for his compositions, he may nearly be as remembered for suffering profound hearing loss yet still carrying on making music.
We know from a document called the Heiligenstadt Testament – a letter that Beethoven wrote to his two brothers – that by the age of 26, Beethoven had started losing his hearing. And this can certainly be noted in his works from this time period. There is a very notable lack of pitches used in a high register during this time – most likely because Beethoven could no longer hear them.
As his malady increased over time, Beethoven became more and more isolated. Almost embarrassed by the fact that people would discover that his greatest gift – that of perfect pitch – was being taken from him, he retreated from society.
Beethoven attempted many things in order to mitigate or overcome this hearing loss. After becoming disenchanted with trying to solve the problem with the help of physicians, he relegated himself to solving his issues through experimentation, such as sawing off the legs of his piano in the hopes of the vibrations being amplified through the floorboards. As his ability decreased he took to playing with his ear pressed to the top of the piano in order to get everything out of the hearing he had left.
Ultimately, Beethoven went completely deaf. And somewhat astoundingly, this led to a remarkably prolific period in which he wrote many of his most known and well regarded pieces, including the aforementioned 9th Symphony as well as enough string quartets to fill an entire textbook.
No longer limited by what he could hear, Beethoven took to his imagination and understanding of music in order to create. The higher registers he had eschewed now made their way back into his work. In a crazy way, he was back to being free. “Ode To Joy” was completed when Beethoven was 52, twenty-six years after he first started experiencing his hearing loss and only 4 years before his death.
And in my typical roundabout way, this leads me to my ultimate point:
There is no substitute for commitment.
More than a strategy or willpower or desire, commitment is truly the only thing that will help you reach your goals.
Willpower is fleeting, but commitment, by its very definition, always remains.
I share with you the story of Beethoven not only because I find it interesting (I do!) nor solely so you have something to discuss during a lull in your next Zoom dinner party (feel free!) but to reinforce how long term commitment is the only path to yielding the best work and results possible. Beethoven, even when faced with losing his hearing, persisted. It would be as if a professional tennis player lost his arms but still found a way to compete. This was the level of his commitment.
It is easy, and even necessary, for us to chunk or dedication levels into finite amounts of time.
“I’ll sign up for the next 12 weeks.”
“I won’t drink at all in January.”
But it is only those without the safety of limitations – those willing to commit – that ultimately achieve their goals. Whether that is in business or in the gym or in writing symphonies. It requires a lifetime. It demands you overcome adversity. It requires you to find a way when funds and time are tight, when it all seems remarkably hard or when, God forbid, you go deaf.
This is my daily benediction for you all. Find a way to commit. For longer than you even think is necessary. Think in terms of years and decades rather than weeks of months. Put more of your heart into it. Do more and question less.
Paradoxically, just like Beethoven, it will give freedom like nothing else.