Columnist David Worboys: Musical miracles

musical miracles

Image - roh.org.com (Royal Opera House)

You can do it! How many examples have we seen of personal victory over adversity achieved through pure determination and courage? Throughout history, in many different fields, success has been attained against all the odds.

It´s no different in the world of music. Two of the greatest examples are from the unlikely pairing of Beethoven and Sutherland. Each had to overcome huge obstacles to produce the pinnacle of their art.

Beethoven´s triumph over tragedy and his journey from adversity to eternal glorification are one of the most inspiring in history. As a child, he was bullied by his drunken father who was his first musical tutor and who beat him and locked him in the cellar whenever he made a mistake. From early childhood, he suffered intestinal problems and was dyslexic –unable to read or write properly. His beloved mother died a lingering death when he was young. At 24 he developed a lung infection and then started hearing a buzzing noise in his ears. At 34 he had a fever for several months, abscesses in his jaw and finger and a septic foot. For the rest of his life, his hearing suffered a gradual deterioration until he became completely deaf by the time he was 46.

He became lonely and his love affairs were unhappy; he never married nor had children. But, despite this, he could transmit love and joy through music. In his last ten years, totally deaf, he produced much of the greatest music ever conceived. At the premiere of the monumental Ninth Symphony, Beethoven, in the front row, was unable to hear the thunderous applause behind him. He was motioned to turn round to face the rapturous audience.

His only opera, Fidelio, with the emotional depth of its own story of triumph over adversity could only have been conceived and expressed by somebody who has confronted and overcome so much suffering.

While Maria Callas is regarded as the greater operatic actress, Joan Sutherland was the Voice – the greatest of all coloratura singers. She took bel canto to new heights.

Joan Sutherland, a kind and modest person, was already, in her mid-twenties, performing at Covent Garden, despite suffering severe sinus and dental problems. In addition, she had to battle acute back pain. She then had to take the risk of sinus surgery to clear the nasal passages. She was not a natural beauty but, despite her back, became strikingly elegant. Apparently, when Fellini was touring Rome seeking attractive female extras for a film, he singled her out in the street.

Despite the setbacks, she wanted to succeed and she worked on her voice. At Covent Garden in February 1959, she took the music world by storm with her performance of “Lucia” and a global superstar emerged. The rest is history.

Many celebrities have moved upward from difficult beginnings. So have even more who are only known within their immediate circle.


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Written by

David Worboys

Offering a unique insight into everything from politics to food to sport, David is one of the Euro Weekly News´ most popular columnists.

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