Abstract

“Music and the Human Psyche: Beethoven’s Recovery Through a Time of Personal Turmoil” 

Tiffany Personett 

Beethoven experienced an intense transitional decade from 1797 to 1807, a change that is reflected in his compositions. The first movement of his Pathétique Sonata (1797) represents the beginning of this transitional period, demonstrating the power of reason over emotional turmoil. This study will show the relationship between Beethoven’s health and his compositions, thus leading into the development of the Heiligenstadt Testament (1802), a note expressing his struggle with numerous illnesses five years after the Pathétique, highlighting a pivotal moment in his life in which personal turmoil was clearly evident. A short time later, Beethoven discovered a means of personal salvation through his Eroica Symphony (1804), where he realized that the act of composition was a gateway toward mental stability. This initiated his next piano sonata, Appassionata (1807), which can be understood as a kind of musical tragedy, suggesting that Beethoven appropriated this composition as a means of personal catharsis, in an Aristotelian sense. Similar to Pathétique, this study will analyze the first movement, while citing contemporaneous changes in Beethoven’s health. Through comparing the piano sonatas composed just before and soon after this period of severe personal turmoil during which Beethoven recognized the therapeutic potential in the act of composition, one can attest that music serves as both a reflection and a means of transformation for the human psyche.

 
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