Play reveals Beethoven's struggle with deafness

August 14, 2011 6:50:57 AM PDT
Ludwig van Beethoven became deaf during his adult years. His struggle in dealing with his disability has rarely been discussed until now.

A local playwright reveals that part of his life in a production called "Beethoven in Vienna".

At Wishing Star Theatre in Libertyville, the main characters -- Beethoven and a young singer Caroline Unger are rehearing their scenes.

Writer Susan Haugland was surprised how many people didn't know Beethoven became deaf.

"He began to notice that he couldn't hear in his late twenties and it gradually got worse til he was about 40 when he became completely deaf, but it was noisy deafness, which was very frustrating for him, in face he contemplated suicide," Haugland said.

Beethoven's 9th Symphony was his biggest and final work.

"There was a famous letter called the heiligenstadt testament where he talks about how he contemplated suicide but needed to stay alive because he knew he had his art to create," Haugland said.

It was important for Haugland to keep his deafness in the forefront of the audience's mind.

"Je can't hear what's going on around him and all this music that he created without being able to hear any of it and how he can't hear the musicians themselves, it's all just memories and thoughts in his head and how frustrating that his for him and how that affects his attitude," Haugland said.

Director Shifra Warch had to educate herself about deafness.

"First from studying real people and how they interact when they're deaf -- not just people who have been deaf forever but people who are struggling with the process. I actually went to talk to people to see how they reacted to me and I put that into our work here so that they could find it," Warch said.

"Although it took him a long time to be comfortable, and I don't think he ever was comfortable with his own disability, for him it was an embarrassment, because he thought of all the people in the world he should have better hearing than anyone and he couldn't hear at all," Haugland said.

The final performance of "Beethoven in Vienna" will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Wishing Star Theatre. They hope to put on this play at other theatres.

Wishing Star Theatre
850 S. Milwaukee Avenue
Libertyville, Ill.

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