from today's edition of 'The Writer's Almanac':

Although no official birth date has been recorded, it’s traditionally believed that Ludwig van Beethoven was born on this date in 1770. He started out life in Bonn, Germany, born into a family of court musicians. Beethoven’s father, mindful of the stories of the child prodigy Mozart, pushed a rigorous but disorganized musical education on his talented son. It wasn’t until the boy was 12 that he found a teacher that really proved valuable, and by the time he was 16, he had established a good professional reputation in Bonn. But he was feeling frustrated with the city’s limitations, and he left for Vienna to meet Mozart, who was preoccupied at that time with composing Don Giovanni, but Beethoven made an impression on him nonetheless. Mozart said: “Watch out for that boy. One day he will give the world something to talk about.” He took the 16-year-old Beethoven on as a pupil. But the death of Beethoven’s mother, and problems with his father’s increasingly erratic behavior, brought the young man home to Bonn once more. By the time he was able to return to Vienna, Mozart had died, and Beethoven began studying with Franz Joseph Haydn.

In 1801, Beethoven wrote in a letter to a friend: “Your Beethoven is most wretched. The noblest part of my existence, my sense of hearing, is very weak.” He had been noticing symptoms for several years and tried a variety of medical treatments, but they didn’t help. His deafness didn’t seem to affect his music, or his success; he composed at a furious pace and performed piano concerts throughout Europe for several more years, until he became almost totally deaf in 1814. But as his hearing deteriorated, he also started suffering headaches and other health problems.

Beethoven died in 1827; the cause of his death was not determined, but he’d been bedridden for several months, and his autopsy showed severe liver damage. Schools were closed on the day of his funeral, and 30,000 people followed his casket through the streets of Vienna.