The Sound of Deafness: Smetana and Traumatic Tinnitus
Bedřich Smetana’s autobiographical String Quartet No. 1 gives musical representation to his experience of the onset of deafness via extreme tinnitus. In that work, his artistic choices relate an initial traumatic event (an explosive chord) to his climactic experience of tinnitus via musical structures that recall and transform that event. As a young violinist, he would often have been exposed to similar loud chords close to his ears. Though his deafness probably resulted from syphilis, Smetana chose to narrate his illness through specific musical evocations of sonic trauma and its tragic recurrence.