Here’s something light for a Friday. A team of researchers are theorizing that Beethoven’s music was composed while he had an irregular heartbeat, or cardiac arrhythmia. That’s one way to take music from the heart literal.
The research, published in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, analyzed several Beethoven classic to look for the irregular heartbeat that has long been theorized. A team of researchers, made up of a cardiologist, a medical historian and a musicologist, were from the University of Michigan and University of Washington.
According to the study, passages of music ‘unquestionably’ matched cardiac arrhythmia. It’s still a theory, but an interesting one.
During the analysis, the team found sudden, unexpected changes in pacing and keys of the composer classic. When you compare it to an arrhythmia, it closely resembles the asymmetrical patterns.
Need a few examples to listen to? YouTube ‘Cavatina’ in Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat, Opus 130. Slide it to the final movement and notice the change to C-flat major. This is actually an unbalanced rhythm that has raw emotion, feeling of disorientation. Then there’s always the fact it has been described as shortness of breath.
Beethoven referred to the piece as always making him weep. In the composer’s directions to musicians playing the piece, the section is marked beklemmt, the German word for ‘heavy heart.’
This is where researchers take a leap. If you come at this from a music perspective, you take ‘heavy heart’ to mean a deep sadness. Researchers say the phrase could describe the sensation of pressure, commonly associated with an irregular heartbeat.
‘The arrhythmic quality of this section is unquestionable,’ they write.
Another example includes the Piano Sonata in A-flat major, Opus 110. This is the central sonata in a trio that marked Beethoven’s final contribution to the genre. In addition, the researchers looked at the opening of “Les Adieux.’
So, how did Beethoven compose based off his heartbeat? Many know the story of his deafness. Researchers are theorizing this could have heightened his senses to make him aware of the irregular beat.
According to the researchers: “We can’t prove or disprove that Beethoven had many of the diseases he’s been supposedly afflicted with because almost all of today’s diagnostic medical tests didn’t exist in the 18th century, and we are interpreting centuries-old medical descriptions into the context of what we know now.”
“However, the symptoms and common association of an abnormal heartbeat with so many diseases makes it a reasonable assumption that Beethoven experienced arrhythmia – and the works we describe may be ‘musical electrocardiograms,’ the readout of modern heart rhythm testing equipment.”
Yes, this might be a stretch, but what if? The cardiac arrhythmia theory is definitely out of left field, but it adds a new twist to the story of Beethoven. And, if it gets people listening to the classic, what’s the harm?