Heart Arrhythmia May Have Influenced Beethoven Music

Scientists speculate he may have tapped into his heartbeat as he lost his hearing
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2015 1:41 PM CST
Heart Arrhythmia May Have Influenced Beethoven Music
This is an undated sketch of German composer Ludwig van Beethoven.   (AP Photo)

As Beethoven went deaf, he may have started listening to his heart. In a new study published in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, a cardiologist, an internal medical specialist, and a musicologist point out that three of the German composer's works exhibit "rhythmic shifts and punctuations" that weren't typical of music during his time but that closely resemble various forms of heart arrhythmia. Although the Los Angeles Times notes that Beethoven's heart was found "structurally sound" in an autopsy, no one knows for sure what medical conditions he suffered from. The study analyzed Beethoven's Piano Sonata in E flat major, the String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, and the Piano Sonata No. 12 in A flat major.

In the first sonata, researchers noticed a "distinctive 'galloping' rhythm" in one section, and another section evoking irregular heartbeats both slow and fast; in the string quartet, the "shortness of breath" evoked is like a "short paroxysm of an atrial tachyarrhythmia"; and in the second sonata, a "repetitive run of notes … 'bears some resemblance to rapid tachyarrhythmia.'" In what co-author Zachary Goldberger acknowledges is "entirely speculative," they theorize as Beethoven went deaf, he may have become more "attuned" to his heartbeat, though they admit "similar rhythmic intricacies" are present in other musicians' compositions. "While these musical arrhythmias may simply manifest Beethoven's genius, there is a possibility that in certain pieces his beating heart could literally be at the heart of some of the greatest masterpieces of all time," Goldberger says, per Medical News Today. (A music teacher recreated a Beethoven piece lost for 200 years.)

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