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This article by Euna Kwon Brossman was prepared for the January 4,

2006 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Beethoven on the Couch

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky is said to have written: "Without music I

would go insane." In fact, the Russian composer of such beloved works

as Swan Lake and the Pathetique Symphony was chronically depressed, in

part, because of his homosexuality in a world that would have banned

him as an outcast. George Gershwin was considered a hyperactive

troublemaker as a child and in today’s world, most likely would have

been diagnosed with some sort of attention deficit disorder. Robert

Schumann experienced frenetic periods of creative energy, at one time

creating three string quartets within a two-week period. And Wolfgang

Amadeus Mozart, the most gifted musical prodigy of all time, may have

suffered from Tourette’s syndrome in addition to the psychological

woes produced by an overbearing father.

While mental illness seems to be over-represented among giants in

every genre – think of Vincent Van Gogh, who cut off his own ear, and

Sylvia Plath, who put her head in the oven to kill herself – there

seems to be a very strong link between music and madness among some of

the world’s greatest composers, according to Richard Kogan, who is in

a particularly unique position to make that observation. The New

York-based psychiatrist and co-director of the Human Sexuality Program

at the Weill-Cornell Medical Center also happens to be a renowned

international concert pianist. The New York Times describes him as "a

superb musician whose playing is eloquent and compelling."

Since 1998 Kogan has bridged the worlds of music and medicine in a

series of lecture-concerts that combine piano recital with medical

analysis. They demonstrate the connection between the psyche of the

musician and his music-making. Kogan is a regularly featured presenter

at such events as the annual meetings of the American Psychiatric

Association and the Aspen Summer Music Festival. For the last three

years he has also brought his talents to the College of New Jersey to

benefit NAMI Mercer, the Mercer County affiliate of the National

Alliance for the Mentally Ill, an organization that serves to educate,

support, and advocate for the mentally ill and their families in

Mercer County. This year, Kogan will present a performance-lecture on

Ludwig van Beethoven, "Night Out with NAMI," with a concert and

dinner, Sunday, January 8, in the Music Building at the college.

Janssen Pharmaceutica of Titusville has given $25,000 as corporate

sponsor of the event.

Kogan acknowledges that since many psychological analyses have been

done after various composers’ deaths, it is hard to pinpoint any of

these diagnoses with 100 percent accuracy. However, he does observe

that certain conditions, bipolar disorder, for example, seem

particularly conducive to creative achievement. "Bipolar disorder is

characterized by a swing into a manic state with a decreased need for

sleep, increased energy, and periods of sharpened imagination. More

important than mental illness, some kind of inner conflict seems to be

a precondition for bursts of creativity. People who are blandly

content don’t feel the need to create."

His third career, as lecturer-performer, was born when he had to do a

symposium on creativity and mental illness for the American

Psychiatric Association. "In order to prepare, I read the biographies

of composers of music I had played all my life, including Schumann,

Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Mozart. And I realized that patterns in

what was described about their moods and behaviors were similar to

those of patients I had seen in my office."

In show-and-tell form, Kogan alternately plays a composer’s music and

then takes the microphone to weave in an explanation of the

psychobiographical forces in the composer’s life that helped create

it. "This format gives audiences an opportunity to hear the context in

which the music was created and to appreciate it more. To bring the

listener into the world of the composer’s mind enhances the


In past years, Kogan has featured Gershwin, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky.

In his lecture on Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Kogan will play

three of Beethoven’s sonatas: Opus 10 No. 2; Opus 57, nicknamed the

Appassionata Sonata; and Opus 110. They represent the early, middle,

and late phases of his life, including the final stages when he became

completely deaf. "NAMI’s work is to help destigmatize mental illness,"

says Kogan. "Beethoven himself could have benefited from a mental

health professional. He had volatile moods, paranoid persecutory

delusions, and suicidal depressions at different times in his life.

Like his father, who was an alcoholic, he also became one. He probably

had manic and psychotic tendencies as well."

Some of the urgency of Beethoven’s need to create was that he started

going deaf at a critical stage of musical development, when he was

about 30 years old. By the time of his death in 1827, he was

completely deaf. "After losing his hearing he contemplated suicide but

decided not to kill himself because he had a sense of his artistic

destiny and he felt an obligation to fulfill it." But Beethoven was so

frustrated by his deafness, says Kogan, that he sublimated his anger

and passion into his music. "This was only way he could express his

rage against the heavens and curse at his fate, creating emotions that

he would not have needed to contact if he had led a more peaceful

life. His Ode to Joy, the last movement of the Ninth Symphony, was one

of the last great works of his life, and was performed for the first

time when he was completely deaf. Nothing has expressed universal

brotherhood, triumph, and complete joy in the way this piece of music

has. Because of his suffering, he created this happiness for us."

Kogan says the roots of Beethoven’s music also lie in his terribly

turbulent childhood with an alcoholic father who beat him and a mother

who stood by. To escape the harshness of his life, Beethoven created a

fantasy to fortify himself against his father’s brutality. He openly

declared that his father was not his real father, and in fact, he

encouraged people to believe that he was the illegitimate son of the

King of Prussia. "While most children would have given up this

romantic family fantasy, Beethoven never did, carrying this fantasy

into his adulthood. He had a hunger for greatness. He maintained a

yearning to have a legitimacy confirmed upon him and yet developed

lifelong disdain for authority, which he often railed against, again,

expressing himself through his music."

Beethoven also had a tendency to pine for unavailable women, pursuing

women of the aristocracy and women who were married or attached in

some way. Because his great romances were unfulfilled, Kogan says this

unfulfilled passion emerges in his music. His famous Moonlight Sonata

was dedicated to a woman named Giuletta Giucciardi, a countess out of

his reach. "As was his fantasy about his royal bloodlines, these

romances were also fantasies. By choosing to fall in love with

aristocrats who were married, he was ensuring that they wouldn’t

succeed." He did have a passionate affair with the woman who would

come to be known in history as his "Immortal Beloved," documented in

letters that exist today. There is much speculation about who she was,

most likely someone of royalty or wealth, but no one really knows.

(The story is explored in the 1994 film, "Immortal Beloved," starring

Gary Oldman as Beethoven.) This woman, Immortal Beloved, told

Beethoven she would leave her husband for him. At first he declared

they would live a glorious life together, but ultimately, he decided

not to embrace the life of happily ever after. "As an artist, he

believed that his destiny would not allow him to share his life with

anyone else," Kogan says.

The "Immortal Beloved" was Beethoven’s last and greatest love. After

that relationship was over, he devoted the next five years of his life

pitted against his sister-in-law, to win the guardianship of his

nephew, Karl, after his brother died. "What was fascinating about his

pursuit of this guardianship was that during it, he was in a creative

slump. Beethoven seemed to feel a need for some sort of family

structure to complete his life and make him creative again. Once he

gained custody, he became extraordinarily creative. Beethoven

abandoned the heroic style of his music and, with this child in his

life, entered a new stage of musical development, becoming more

personal, communicative, and expressive."

Richard Kogan was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the second of five

children. His father was a gastroenterologist who had a practice in

Elizabeth for 50 years. His mother was a music teacher, who first sat

him down at the piano at the age of four. "I was told I had a lot of

energy, and I was probably tearing up the house and scribbling on the

walls. Music was a way to harness that energy." His talent was

evident, and by the age of six, he was studying piano with Nadia

Reisenberg in the pre-college division at Juilliard. One of the

friends he would make at Juilliard was fellow student Yo-Yo Ma, who

would become a world famous cellist. Kogan took his musical talent to

Harvard, where he majored in music and also pursued a pre-med program.

His path would cross again with Ma, who was also studying at Harvard,

and they became good friends. In his freshman year, Kogan and Ma

enlisted a third musician, violinist Lynn Chang, to form a trio. The

three of them played all through Kogan’s undergraduate years (he

graduated in 1977) and also when he went to Harvard Medical School (he

graduated in 1982).

Attending medical school and simultaneously pursuing his career as a

concert pianist was, needless to say, a challenging balancing act, but

the dean of the medical school interceded to allow Kogan to do both.

"He would give me months off between my clinical clerkships in order

to concertize."

Kogan lives in New York City with his wife and three children, a

11-year-old son, a 14-year-old daughter, and a 15-year-old daughter,

who is a pre-college division student at Juilliard, playing cello.

Kogan says his lecture-concerts have enabled him to embark upon a

gratifying personal journey that has helped him become a better

musician. "Knowing about the lives, conditions, and struggles of the

great composers on a deeper level has made me play their music in a

much more committed way." Kogan is hoping to inspire others in the

same way with a new series of presentation-performances on DVD, "Music

& the Mind," which feature the life and works of the classical

composers. Produced by Yamaha, the first installment focuses on the

brilliant 19th century composer Robert Schumann.

Kogan is convinced that music can be used to help today’s mentally

ill. The challenge is to tap into the powerfully creativity urges and

pull of certain psychiatric conditions while removing the pain and

stigma of mental illness. Music can also be used to soothe. He is

excited about the implications of scientific work that documents what

music does to the immune system and how that work can be used to help

patients. "We have so much music around us, most of it is background

noise, ringtones on cell phones, music in elevators, but not enough

people are really listening closely. Music is a tremendously

underutilized resource. It has extraordinary healing properties.

There’s so much suffering. There are many troubled kids and adults who

would benefit by having more music in their lives. These composers

used music to heal themselves. They can help heal us as well."

Night Out with NAMI, a concert and dinner, Sunday, January 8, 3 p.m.,

in the Music Building at the college. $50 for the concert alone; $150

for the concert, reception, and "Starry Night" dinner. Call

609-799-8994 or E-mail For information on Kogan’s

DVD series, "Masters & the Mind," call 800-759-1294.

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