A new study speculates that Beethoven’s music reflects its author’s heart condition – cardiac arrhythmia punctuated with brief episodes of atrial tachycardia. Researchers linked syncopated phrases, odd rhythms, disturbing pauses and sense of breathlessness in three of Beethoven’s works to the composer’s disturbed heart.
Study authors said that the three musical pieces were similar to a “musical electrocardiogram” that showed without a trace of doubt that the German composer suffered of cardiac arrhythmia. Researchers also speculate that he used his heart condition to compose several of his musical masterpieces after he had become deaf.
The study was conducted by a cardiologist, an internal medicine expert and a musician. The findings were published last year in “Perspectives in Biology and Medicine.”
Although an autopsy performed in 1827 revealed that the great musician’s heart was relatively healthy when he died, study authors say that the Piano Sonata in E flat major (Opus 81a), the Piano Sonata No. 12 in A flat major (Opus 110) and the String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major (Opus 130) recorded Beethoven’s irregular heartbeats. Researchers linked this heart condition to several psychic and physical afflictions that were affecting the musician.
All three works were written after he had become completely deaf at age 49.
“This is entirely speculative. At least it gives us a new dimension by which to listen to his music,”
said cardiologist Zachary D. Goldberger, co-author of the study.
Dr. Goldberger also said that he and his colleagues were drawn into the research by the rhythmic shifts and punctuations in Beethoven’s late works. The three compositions scrutinized by researchers were also described by musicologists as abrupt and unusual in music of the German composer’s time.
The Piano Sonata no. 18 (in E-flat major) has a “distinctive ‘galloping’ rhythm,” researchers say. The allegro section seems to mimic “racing irregular heartbeats” and has no slow movement which is unusual for a sonata.
The Piano Sonata No. 12 (in A flat major), which was played during Beethoven’s own funeral procession, includes a final movement called lamenting song before two alert movements called fugues. Musicians note that the pianist playing this part must play with the right hand an irregular melody similar to shortness of breath (dyspnea), while with the left hand he/she must perform a repetitive string of notes, very similar to tachyarrhythmia. Study authors say that shortness of breath is usually associated with tachyarrhythmia.
The String Quartet No. 13’s fifth movement even has a side-note written by Beethoven, who recommended that the part should be played “beklemmt,” or “heavy of heart.”
Image Source: Escuelapedia