Diagnosing Genius

Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Diagnosing Genius
    Book Description:

    Mai's experience as a physician and psychiatrist serves as a basis for his analysis. Working from the symptoms described in the medical evidence, Beethoven's letters and those of his friends, and the reports of his physicians, Mai compares how Beethoven's health complaints would have been understood and treated within the medical, political, and social climate of both his time and ours. He discusses Beethoven's terminal illness and the resulting autopsy report to consider the roles of alcohol, lead poisoning (based on the toxic levels in his hair), and syphilis in causing his death.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7606-3
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Anton Kuerti

    Beethoven is such an icon for music lovers that one is almost compelled to picture him as superhuman. Yes, we all know that he became severely deaf, but his ability to transcend this handicap and continue his artistic triumphs only adds to the mystique enveloping him. He is the hero who could revolutionize music, fraternize on the basis of equality with the intelligentsia, the nobility, and the aristocracy, hold discourses on philosophy, politics, music, and art in general, and prevail over human frailty to create immortal masterpieces. He has stirred so many of us so profoundly that we feel a...

    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE The Setting
    (pp. 3-27)

    The year is 1804. Napoleon Bonaparte has decided to crown himself Emperor of France. Europe is in a period of brief and uneasy peace after fifteen years of political turmoil generated by the French Revolution. Like millions of other Europeans, Ludwig van Beethoven, aged thirtythree, had been strongly influenced by the ideals of the Revolution. He had developed an admiration for Napoleon, the First Consul of France, and believed that Napoleon would crystallize these ideals by creating a more liberal society. Beethoven conceived and wrote one of his greatest works, the Symphony no. 3, op. 55 (“Eroica”), during the years...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Beethoven’s Life
    (pp. 28-102)

    Beethoven’s life was filled with incident. He had a hard-driving, extroverted nature and made things happen. To use a modern term, he was a “mover and shaker.” Even apart from his music, his life and character have fascinated biographers. In this chapter I will discuss his family background and the main events of his life, with an emphasis on his health and his relationships with family and friends, and in particular with women. Although not all of these relationships are connected with his health, they were often intense and stormy, and they provide us with an intriguing glimpse of his...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Beethoven’s Health Problems
    (pp. 103-136)

    Beethoven experienced a variety of health problems during his adult life and referred to them frequently in letters to family, friends, and business associates. His deafness is well-known, but most of his body systems were also affected at different times of his life. He refers most frequently to gastrointestinal and psychiatric symptoms in his correspondence, but respiratory, rheumatologic, and ophthalmologic symptoms also affected him intensely for shorter periods. We have five primary sources of information about Beethoven’s health: his own letters, letters written by others, the Conversation Books, reports (including the autopsy report) written by his physicians, and a modern-day...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Interpretation
    (pp. 137-172)

    The earliest portions of the extensive literature in German, English, and French on Beethoven’s medical problems dates from shortly after his death; there was a particular burst of publications around the centenary of his death in 1927, and it continues to grow. Much of the writing about Beethoven’s health by both physicians and non-physicians is focused on his deafness, due to the dramatic poignancy of a composer who is unable to hear the sound of his own music. Many writers have also attempted to understand his other medical disorders, particularly his emotional problems and the cause(s) of his death, and...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Illness and Creativity
    (pp. 173-200)

    Art and culture are the distinguishing and most enduring marks of a civilization. We know little about Cro-Magnon man and other prehistoric peoples other than what they chose to depict on the walls of their caves or in their architecture and pottery. In more recent historic times the art, architecture, and writings of ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, early Chinese, Amerindian, African, and other civilizations provide a revealing glimpse of the interests, activities, and daily lives of these peoples. The same can be said of our civilization: our art will be remembered and admired by future generations when many other distinctive...

  11. APPENDIX ONE Glossary of Medical Terms
    (pp. 203-211)
  12. APPENDIX TWO Beethoven’s Medical History
    (pp. 212-214)
  13. APPENDIX THREE Criteria for Alcohol Dependence and Abuse
    (pp. 215-216)
  14. APPENDIX FOUR Dr Andreas Wawruch’s Medical Report
    (pp. 217-222)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 223-246)
    (pp. 247-258)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 259-270)