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Ehrenwald, J. (1979). Beethoven: Hero and Anti-Hero, Portrait of a Right Hemispheric Genius. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 7(1):45-55.

(1979). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 7(1):45-55

Beethoven: Hero and Anti-Hero, Portrait of a Right Hemispheric Genius

Jan Ehrenwald


Traditionally, anniversaries of great men are occasions for celebration, adulation, or for critical reappraisal, if not debunking. Edith and Richard Sterba (1954) have made Beethoven and his Nephew the subject of searching psychoanalytic scrutiny, independently of such rites of passage. Their verdict: Beethoven was a latent homosexual with an all pervasive resentment of women and especially mother figures. This, they hold, is borne out, among other things, by his inordinate attachment to his nephew Karl, by his hatred of Karl's mother Johanna, and his inability to form a wholesome relationship with any one of his female admirers. His paranoid delusions and ultimate psychotic breakdown are indeed in good keeping with such an interpretation. Maynard Solomon's (1977) scholarly study, Beethoven, is a more timely and more evenly balanced birthday offering. It adds another wrinkle to the vast Beethoven literature, psychoanalytic and otherwise. Solomon points to Beethoven's family romance, as described by Freud, Rank, and others, as the crucial factor in the composer's personality development. He describes his fantasies of being of royal birth: Beethoven had persuaded himself that he was the offspring of his mother's extramarital affair with one of the kings of Prussia, seemingly unconcerned that he was thereby impugning her marital fidelity. Another mechanism of defense noted by Solomon is Beethoven's attempt at restoring the family triad by becoming his nephew's “bodily” father and mother at the same time, though he was unable to “take the step that would have united the three as a cooperative family unit.” Solomon also points to Beethoven's gradual mental deterioration and delusional trend in his declining years.

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