According to this article on cmuse.org,

Even though Mozart is the only Western musician and composer who was explicitly acknowledged as having perfect pitch, Bach, Händel, Chopin and Beethoven are generally known to be endowed with that ability as well.

So, it is never explicitly said that Beethoven had perfect pitch. Though it is suggested, it’s not confirmed – meaning that it’s possible that Beethoven didn’t have perfect pitch, but perhaps very good relative pitch.

Therefore, is it possible that Beethoven “heard” with his inner ear the pieces he was writing wrong? For example, his 9th symphony in D minor – could he have “heard” it completely different to how we hear it?

  • 1
    You'd need Beethoven & a piano. He's saying, "Look & listen, this is a D" whilst banging at the white note just above C. Neither of you would know what he was 'hearing'... It's the musical equivalent of describing "blue".
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 4 '19 at 19:12
  • The mother of a friend of mine used to say: ... and what does it change? Mar 4 '19 at 20:29
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    Beethoven was still able to hear musical notes during his piano playing through a bone-conducting device, so he wouldn't have forgotten the sound of particular pitches. Therefore the premise of that question is doubtful. Mar 4 '19 at 21:02
  • Since even Beethoven himself couldn't know, how could anyone else? For that matter, how do you know you "hear" the same "key" that I do? Mar 5 '19 at 14:27

Yes, it is very possible, and that is true even if he did have perfect pitch, which he most probably did.

For example, a friend of mine, a lifetime spent as a professional musician with a very strong sense of perfect pitch, tells me that his sense of absolute pitch started changing in his fifties, and by now (he's 75) his perfect pitch is 3 semitones below what it used to be.

In other words, from his subjective point of view, it is as if while the music inside his head has always remained the same, the tuning of his piano and all the other instruments that he hears outside all the time, have gradually increased by 3 semitones over the years.

So, answering your question, yes it's quite possible, maybe it's even likely, at least to some extent.

  • Yes. This happened to Sviatoslav Richter as well. If memory serves it was a factor in his deciding to use the score later in life.
    – user48353
    Mar 4 '19 at 19:18
  • I think your use of "possible" and "very" fly in the face of statistical validity. Mar 5 '19 at 14:28

We can never know what Beethoven heard in his head. That being said, it is unlikely that Beethoven heard his music "completely differently to how we hear it."

The reason is that changing a composition's key does not "completely" change the character of the music.

For instance, today, we play baroque music on modern equally-tempered instruments that are tuned to A = 440 Hz. While it sounds different from what those composer originally expected, that doesn't make it "completely different."

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