Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Helen Keller and Beethoven's Ninth

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Helen Keller and Beethoven's Ninth

Article excerpt

Beethoven was no stranger to Helen Keller (1880-1898), the famous suffragist and socialist who was struck blind and deaf at the age of six months. On February 1,1891, one of her teachers, Michael Anagnos (the "father" of the Kindergarten for the Blind), visited and answered her questions about Memnon, Sappho, Tantalus, Orpheus, Phidias, and Amphion, whose names she had discovered in Julia Anagnos' poem titled "The Deaf Beethoven," which Helen had read in raised print. After studying the poem, she commented, "1 am 'wedded to silence,' like the great master, but I am very glad that my teacher is not." Keller s phrase comes from the fourth stanza of the poem: "Strange Providence! To crown us all / And leave the king bareheaded, / To rouse us at a deaf man's call, / and he to Silence wedded!" (from Anagnos' 1883 collection Stray Chords). In March 1924 Keller was finally able to listen to the Ninth Symphony in a radio broadcast from the New York Symphony Orchestra. To the right appears her evocative description.

Dear Friends:

I have the joy of being able to tell you that, though deaf and blind, I spent a glorious hour last night listening over the radio to Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony." I do not mean to say that I "heard" the music in the sense that other people heard it; and I do not know whether I can make you understand how it was possible for me to derive pleasure from the symphony. It was a great surprise to myself. I had been reading in my magazine for the blind of the happiness that the radio was bringing to the sightless everywhere. I was delighted to know that the blind had gained a new source of enjoyment; but l did not dream that l could have any part in their joy. Last night, when the family was listening to your wonderful rendering of the immortal symphony someone suggested that I put my hand on the receiver and see if I could get any of the vibrations. He unscrewed the cap, and I lightly touched the sensitive diaphragm. …

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