Tinnitus And Musical Genius
Please note: the following information does not constitute professional medical advice, and is provided for general informational purposes only. Please speak to your doctor if you have tinnitus.
Famed German composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Schumann both suffered from tinnitus. Beethoven eventually went deaf, but in spite of his inability to hear, he went on to compose “Ode to Joy”, one of the most recognized pieces of classical music in Western history. In an article in Psychology Today, George Michelson Foy explores the link between tinnitus and musical genius, questioning whether Beethoven was able to compose his masterpieces in spite of tinnitus or because of it.
Can You Hear That?
According to Foy, our hearing organs are always creating a faint noise, just like a stereo system creates a faint hum when you turn it on. Most people can’t detect the noise, but some can. When that noise becomes so loud and unbearable that people can’t function, that’s when we call it “tinnitus.”
A More Perfect Sound
Neo-Platonic philosophy states that everything that exists in the physical world, whether it’s a person, a flower or a chair, is imperfect. A perfect, flawless version of that thing exists in a divine realm somewhere.
Foy argues that tinnitus is proof that our bodies create sound independent of our consciousness. The ringing tone exists entirely of its own accord, separate from our senses. Plato and other philosophers might have thought that this sound had a divine origin. In fact, the ancient people of India and Egypt believed that tinnitus was a sign of divine sensitivity. Robert Schulman believed that the never-ending key of A he kept hearing was from God. Of course, Schulman eventually went mad, but madness and genius have a very long history together. It could be that tinnitus and musical genius have a similar history.
Hear It, Then Write It
Beethoven, though deaf, was able to compose the “Ode to Joy” because he heard it in his head. That begs the question, “Where did he hear that music? Where did it come from?” Was his tinnitus a manifestation of a much more inexplicable process at work? Artists often describe the creative process as one of dictation. First they read, see or hear the work of art, and then they put it down. Perhaps this is the link between tinnitus and musical genius. The would-be musician may not be hearing God, but they may be tuned into sounds that exist beyond the level of normal human awareness.
Foy, G. M. (2010, May 26). Is tinnitus really God? Retrieved January 27, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shut-and-listen/201005/is-tinnitus-really-god
Adoga, A. A., & Obindo, T. J. (2013, January 26). Chapter 15. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from http://www.intechopen.com/books/mental-disorders-theoretical-and-empirical-perspectives/the-association-between-tinnitus-and-mental-illnesses