Beethoven: Manic Musician

“Beethoven churned out masterpieces with all the frenzy of a cokehead.” Joe Oliveto

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German classical composer of the early 1800s. He was born in 1770 and developed his talents early, but he produced most of  his great works after 1800. 

Beethoven’s upbringing was difficult. His father was an unsuccessful musician and abusive alcoholic. His mother suffered from depression. At a young age, Beethoven had to support his family with his music. 

Musicologists largely agree that Beethoven had bipolar disorder. He had periods of colossal productivity. Sometimes he produced multiple major works simultaneously. In correspondence with friends, he described long periods of agonizing depression. During these periods, he would let his appearance go. Beethoven’s music even shows intense mood swings. Looking at his lack of  music production in the winter, one can conclude he suffered from seasonal affective disorder. His OCD caused him to count out exactly 60 coffee beans every time he had coffee.

Beethoven was suicidally depressed at least once. But it coincided with the oncoming of deafness that threatened his musical career. He was a heavy drinker and died of apparent liver disease at 56.  A popular story has Beethoven ordering a favorite wine, which arrived the day before he died. Realizing he couldn’t drink it, his last words were: “Pity, pity, it’s too late.”

Beethoven’s unstable relationships and fierce temper suggest that he too may have  had borderline personality disorder. Simply put, he was difficult to get along with. But his high level of functioning between episodes and his ability to accept criticism would tend to preclude such a diagnosis.