Weekender

Music has a place in medicine, psychiatrist and concert pianist says

Apollo was the Greek god of medicine and music, both of which once were practiced by the same authority figures. Over time, music and medicine became increasingly specialized, with little to no overlap between them.

“But something has been lost,” said Dr. Richard Kogan, a psychiatrist and concert pianist who spoke at the recent Rotenberg-Drimmer Memorial Lecture at Reading Hospital.

Music has a place in medicine and can help heal the mind, contended Kogan, who has a private psychiatry practice in New York City.

Ludwig van Beethoven and his mental and physical health problems perfectly represent the benefits of incorporating music and medicine, Kogan said.

Though much of Beethoven’s life was tragic, Kogan interspersed his lecture with humor and by playing several of Beethoven’s better-known pieces at different points during the lecture.

The lecture series was established by Dr. Larry Rotenberg, a Reading Hospital psychiatrist, and his wife, Alison, to enhance understanding between people. It honors the memory of Dr. Rotenberg’s father, mother, brother and grandmother, all of whom perished in the Holocaust.

Clinical studies provide evidence that music can be used as an alternative therapy in treating depression, autism, schizophrenia and dementia, as well as problems of agitation, anxiety, sleeplessness and substance abuse, Kogan said.

Listening to music or creating it — basically any involvement with it — can alleviate some negative symptoms of mental illness, Kogan said. Music can improve mood, reduce anxiety and ease pain.

Early trouble

Born in 1770 in what is now Bonn, Germany, Beethoven had a musician father, Johann, who was an alcoholic with relatively limited musical skills, Kogan said.

He administered brutal music lessons to his son, often after returning at midnight from a tavern and making Ludwig practice until dawn.

Johann would become enraged when his son improvised musically, Kogan said.

Ludwig was not raised or schooled very well, never learned much beyond basic arithmetic and became a withdrawn, unhappy child, Kogan said.

As a result, Ludwig van Beethoven withdrew into his world of music and fantasy, Kogan said.

Part of that fantasy was that his parents weren’t really his parents and that he was actually descended from royalty.

That’s not an uncommon type of belief among children, though the vast majority outgrow such a delusion, Kogan said.

But Beethoven’s belief became more fervent as he got older, Kogan said.

“Friends urged him to refute the ’rumor,’ but he absolutely refused to do so,” Kogan said.

He also told his friends that there had been and would be thousands of princes.

“ ‘But there is only one Beethoven,’ ” Kogan said the composer said.

Hearing loss

In his late 20s, Beethoven noticed signs of hearing loss.

“Not surprisingly, he panicked,” Kogan said. “Deafness is a hardship for anybody, but for a musician it is catastrophic.”

He wrote a letter to his brother in which he said only his music was keeping him from suicide.

He also wrote that he yearned to spend one day of pure joy but feared he never would.

However, once his hearing was gone, Beethoven was able to compose strictly from his own imagination and was free from the influence of his contemporaries, Kogan said.

Beethoven didn’t care if nobody could master playing his compositions.

One violinist asked Beethoven to alter a piece of music so the violinist could more comfortably play it, Kogan said.

Beethoven replied: “Do you think when the spirit calls to me that I think for even a second of your wretched violin?”

Much of Beethoven’s great music is due to him using it to cope with the trials and tribulations he had with women.

Kogan said Beethoven seemed to have two conditions for a woman to gain his attention.

First, they must be members of the aristocracy.

Second, they had to be married or firmly romantically attached to someone else, Kogan said to laughter.

Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” was written for a countess, Kogan said, “who spurned him, well, for her husband.”

When his brother, Carl, died in 1815, Beethoven began to make wild claims, such as that he was the father of Carl’s son, Karl, and he began a protracted custody dispute with his sister-in-law, Johanna.

“During this period, he was clearly psychotic,” Kogan said.

Also, his musical output dropped.

A history of alcoholism, depression and insanity on both sides of his family had caught up to him.

Death and legacy

However, he soon overcame many of those problems as he continued to compose. Nonetheless, Beethoven died in 1827 at age 56. The cause of death has been in dispute since then.

Kogan said he is uncertain how he would diagnose Beethoven’s mental state if he were Kogan’s patient today, but that he would be able to confirm that the composer had an exceptional ability to translate his own melancholia and mania into music.

Beethoven tried to heal both the world and himself through music, Kogan contended.

“But medicine has lost touch with music’s power,” Kogan said in an interview after his lecture. “Many people know intuitively that music can make you feel better, but it also has the capacity to help you transcend any obstacles.”

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