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Celebrating the Music, and Humanity, of Beethoven

As the world marks another anniversary of Ludwig Van Beethoven's 1770 birth, musician and writer Miles Hoffman tells NPR's Renee Montagne that the great composer is still revered for his forceful symphonies -- and admired for writing a share of them after losing his hearing.

In 1802, Beethoven, by then an acclaimed pianist, came to grips with his progressive hearing loss, which would become permanent. That loss ended his concert career in 1808 and by 1815, he had ceased to perform in public.

The effects of that illness would prove to be a boon for generations of music lovers, however, as Beethoven chose to focus on composing, creating music that remains among the most-performed today. Also, his growing deafness led Beethoven to push for louder and louder pianos, forcing new advances in the instrument's design.

Recognized as a genius in his own time, Beethoven was the first composer to rise to the status of a celebrity, passing beyond the limits of aristocratic approval to become a favorite of the public. Upon his death in 1827, thousands came to pay their respects.

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Morning Edition music commentator Miles Hoffman is the author of The NPR Classical Music Companion, now in its tenth printing from the Houghton Mifflin Company. Before joining Morning Edition in 2002, Hoffman entertained and enlightened the nationwide audience of NPR's Performance Today every week for 13 years with his musical commentary, "Coming to Terms," a listener-friendly tour through the many foreign words and technical terms peculiar to the world of classical music.