Ludwig van Beethoven composed masterpieces while totally deaf, right? Well, hold that thought. New research into his so-called "conversation books" suggests Beethoven had a little hearing in his left ear until soon before he died in 1827, the Guardian reports. "This is going to send everybody scurrying to revise biographical concepts about Beethoven," says Kent State University professor Theodore Albrecht. "Not only was Beethoven not completely deaf at the premiere of his Ninth Symphony in May 1824, he could hear, although increasingly faintly, for at least two years afterwards." Albrecht reached this conclusion while editing and translating Beethoven's "conversation books," which Albrecht says have long been misinterpreted.
Beethoven used the books to communicate with people starting in 1818, some 20 years after his hearing began to fade; friends usually wrote down comments, and Beethoven answered aloud. Entries in 1823 and 1824 refer to the composer's "fairly preserved ... left ear" and warn that "conducting the whole concert would strain your hearing too much." Albrecht calls the find a "game-changer," maybe because some scholars have said Beethoven's worsening deafness affected his choice of musical notes. In related news, the New York Times reports that late NBA legend Kobe Bryant was a huge Beethoven fan who once played a game "to the rhythms" of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. (Beethoven was also on a record shipped to extraterrestrials.)