Was Beethoven inspired by his heart's (arrhythmic) beat?


A cardiologist, a Beethoven scholar and a medical historian have identified three compositions by Beethoven which they argue reflect the arrhythmia of the composer's heart.

"Part of Beethoven's genius, his sublimity, was to overcome adversity and transcend limitations with his art," said cardiologist Zachary Goldberger, who co-wrote an essay on the possible links between Beethoven's arrhythmia and his music. "We are listening to his music with a stethoscope. We invite reader-listeners to approach these works with open minds and open ears, and form their own opinions."

Goldberger, with musicologist Steven M. Whiting and medical historian Joel D. Howell, point to the opening of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in E-flat major (Opus 81a), the 5th movement of the String Quarter in B-flat major (Opus 130) and the Piano Sonata in A-flat major. They write: "We found that there may indeed be, in these works, a possible manifestation of an arrhythmia."

Of Opus 81a, for example, they write that "the rhythmic pattern seems to register a physical symptom of psychological distress, namely slow irregular heartbeats (in the Adagio) then racing irregular heartbeats (in the Allegro)."

Goldberger's team admits that it is not known whether Beethoven suffered from cardiovascular disease. His autopsy revealed cirrhosis of the liver, which means he "very likely suffered from alcoholic cardio-myopathy" according to Bonn cardiologist Berndt Luederitz.

  1. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/perspectives_in_biology_and_medicine/v057/57.2.goldberger.html
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