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Solomon, M. (1975). The Dreams of Beethoven. Am. Imago, 32(2):113-144.

(1975). American Imago, 32(2):113-144

The Dreams of Beethoven

Maynard Solomon

“… finally I came, indeed, to Jerusalem.”


In my researches on Beethoven, I have documented a number of delusional fantasies which provide an entrance to his unconscious life. Foremost among these, and of paramount significance in the hierarchy of his fantasy-life, is the delusion of his royal birth, a classic instance of the Family Romance. Published reports that Beethoven was the natural son of a King of Prussia (variously Friedrich Wilhelm II and Frederick the Great) first appeared in 1810, and were repeated in music dictionaries, music-periodicals and standard encyclopedias throughout his lifetime. Despite forceful entreaty by his friends and family, Beethoven refused to permit any refutation of the myth until the onset of his final illness, in early December, 1826, and he “neglected” to mail the letter of authorization until February, 1827, a few weeks before his death.

The form through which Beethoven acted out his Family Romance was a pretense of nobility which was accepted as valid for more than a quarter century in Vienna until December, 1818, when the composer, in a moment of “confusion,” confessed his lack of a patent of nobility in a court proceeding. However, neither this confession nor his admitted lack of an aristocratic genealogy persuaded Beethoven that he did not belong to the nobility.

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