Rhythm: Did Beethoven put his heartbeat into his music?

Rhythm: Did Beethoven put his heartbeat into his music?
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According to a study by Zachary D. Goldberger, Steven M. Whiting and Joel D. Howell from University of Michigan, Ludwig van Beethoven’s own heartbeat could have inspired the striking rhythms found in some of his most famous works.

Futurity: “A cardiologist, a medical historian, and a musicologist analyzed several of Beethoven’s compositions for clues of a heart condition some have speculated he had. Their findings appear in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine

The rhythms of certain parts of renowned works, researchers say, may in fact reflect the irregular rhythms of Beethoven’s own heart caused by cardiac arrhythmia.

“His music may have been both figuratively and physically heartfelt,” says coauthor Joel Howell, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and member of the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

“When your heart beats irregularly from heart disease, it does so in some predictable patterns. We think we hear some of those same patterns in his music.”

“The synergy between our minds and our bodies shapes how we experience the world. This is especially apparent in the world of arts and music, which reflects so much of people’s innermost experiences,” Howell adds.”

The team studied the rhythmic patterns of several compositions that may reflect Beethoven’s experience of an arrhythmia, a condition that causes the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Sudden, unexpected changes in pace and keys in Beethoven’s music appear to match such asymmetrical patterns.

Take for example the final movement “Cavatina” in Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat Major, Opus 130, an emotionally charged piece that Beethoven said always made him weep.

In the middle of the quartet, the key suddenly changes to C-flat major, involving an unbalanced rhythm that evokes dark emotion, disorientation, and what has even been described as a “shortness of breath.”

In the composer’s directions to musicians playing the piece, the section is marked beklemmt, a German word that translates to “heavy of heart.”

Authors note that “heavy of heart” could mean sadness but may also describe the sensation of pressure, a feeling that is associated with cardiac disease. “The arrhythmic quality of this section is unquestionable,” they write.”

Source: Futurity
Photo Credits: Beethoven close-up by fdecomite / FlickR