Pianist praises Beethoven, plays piece at UH

Students flocked to the Honors College on Nov. 9 to enhance their understanding of classical music.

Richard Kogan, artistic director of the Weill Music and Medicine program at Cornell University, elaborated on Ludwig van Beethoven’s choice to achieve creative destiny in music despite his psychological troubles in a lecture titled, “Beethoven: Creative Genius and Psychiatric Illness.”

“There’s sort of a long standing tradition of associating madness with creative genius,” said Kogan.

“Beethoven is often thought of as the quintessential example of the tortured artist or the mad genius. The combination of his disheveled appearance, his powerful music and his volatile moods and violent rages — he just seems like the crazy artist.”

The deafness spurred on his insanity, Kogan said in a video.

“Deafness is a hardship for anybody, but for a musician, it is catastrophic. It is not surprising that Beethoven became deaf, he contemplated suicide,” Kogan said.

“Deafness actually made Beethoven a much greater composer.”

The improvement came from the isolation he was placed in. He could not hear any other music but what his mind created, Kogan said.

“Part of what happened was that once he had lost his hearing, he was no longer hearing the music of his contemporaries. He was no longer under the influence of prevalent traditions,” Kogan said.

“He was free to imagine sounds and create forms that were not like anything else created up until that point.”

Kogan did not just speak about Beethoven during the presentation but also played his music after he spoke.

“I love exploring the interface between these fields. Creativity is very important for musicians, but it is essentially important to psychiatrists,” Kogan said.

“The whole question about how and why people create and looking at the geniuses like Beethoven gives me a window into the creative process which can ultimately be used for everybody.”

The lecture and performance served as the initial lecture for the Arts & Medicine Lecture series that is a collaboration between several departments on campus and is sponsored by the Honors College’s Medicine and Society Program.

Both music and medicine have drifted apart from each other in modern society and become specialized subjects, Kogan said.

Attendance exceeded expectations as students, faculty, and friends of the Honors College including alumni from the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Association of Greater Houston arrived to listen to Kogan’s perspective that combined music with medicine.

William Monroe, dean of the Honors College, said the attendance was very high.

“I was very happy with the turnout. We had a full house. We had a great variety of people,” Monroe said. “Perfecto.”

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1 Comment

  • This was a fantastic event. It was both very educational and very entertaining. Thanks to the folks at the Honors College for setting this up. My wife and I look forward to more such events.

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