Campus News

UB partners with BPO on special performance of Beethoven’s Fifth

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven when composing by Joseph Karl Stieler

Ludwig van Beethoven composed many of his most famous pieces, including the Fifth Symphony, during the second half of his musical career when his hearing loss had become severe. Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published January 20, 2017

Linda Pessar
“In turning away from suicide, Beethoven went on to revolutionize classical music.”
Linda Pessar, director
Center for Medical Humanities

They’re the most famous musical notes in the world: da-da-da-dum, the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  Those notes — and all the magnificent notes that follow them – will be part of a special collaborative performance between UB and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at 8 p.m. Jan. 26 in Kleinhans Music Hall.

Tickets are available at the BPO's website. Members of the UB community should use the discount code BPOMED20 for a 20 percent discount.

The idea for the collaboration emerged when the BPO decided to perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as a “Know the Score” event, in which the orchestra focuses on  a single piece of music and partners with local organizations to provide audiences with not only an outstanding performance, but also a deeper understanding of the context in which the music was composed.

Interested in how Beethoven’s hearing loss affected him physiologically and psychologically, the BPO contacted Linda Pessar, director of the Center for Medical Humanities in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who immediately agreed to participate.

At the event, Pessar, also professor emerita of psychiatry at the medical school, will discuss the stages Beethoven went through when he realized he was losing his hearing at the age of 26.

“My focus will be on Beethoven’s remarkable resiliency that led him to turn away from suicide, despite the social isolation and threat to his musical creativity that deafness represented,” Pessar says. “In turning away from suicide, Beethoven went on to revolutionize classical music.”

She will discuss the factors that promoted Beethoven’s resilience, including social supports and values that grew out of the 18th century German Enlightenment.

“While he thought seriously about suicide, what held him back was that he felt he still had so much music in him,” Pessar says. He composed many of his most famous pieces, including the Fifth Symphony, during the second half of his musical career, when his hearing loss had become severe.

Jeff Higginbotham, professor and chair of the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences and an expert in communication technologies and how they can be improved, will discuss social circumstances, medical treatments and available technologies for deaf people during the 19th century. He also will demonstrate some of the devices and treatments that were available at the time.

“Beethoven’s perseverance through adversity is something everyone identifies with,” says Stefan Sanders, BPO associate conductor who will conduct the concert. “This program will deepen our connection to Beethoven and the ‘Fifth’ with fascinating presentations from two UB professors, focusing their discussion on the physiology and psychology of Beethoven’s hearing loss.

“We are grateful for our partners in Buffalo’s medical community for their commitment to this program and a shared passion for the interconnectedness of art and science.”