Ludwig van Beethoven – Destructive Diathesis and the New in Art


The author presents a “homeopathic anamnesis” of Ludwig van Beethoven, to demonstrate that the destructive diathesis has a dual nature which can also include creative, life affirming qualities.

Translated by Katja Schütt and Alan Schmukler



A patient with a destructive (syphilitic) diathesis is often associated with negative aspects – carcinoma and other severe diseases at the physical level and compulsion violence, psychosis etc. on the psychic level. In this article I want to demonstrate that a person with a destructive diathesis, can have positive effects for the society, namely in terms of upheavals and other positive revolutionary changes. At the same time it can’t be overlooked that the person standing behind the work, is isolated as an individual and remains tragically in their destiny.

The destructive person – discontent with themselves and others – tends to make their own and other’s lives difficult or even unbearable. Contrary to the lymphatic person, he has a problematic relationship with his social environment and cannot really connect with others.   His emotional reactions are extreme and fear can cause panic, joy or instability. He is easily irritated, becomes quarrelsome and fiercely criticizes others for minor issues. These people become frantic, have abrupt attacks of rage and cannot control these impulses. They openly or covertly resort to violence in the family and at work – either by means of words or deeds. Often there is a tendency to extreme suspiciousness and hostility, and they can be full of hatred and contempt for themselves and others. The individual is unable to forget supposed slights and becomes resentful, unrelenting, unpitying, and revengeful.

Following his impulses, the destructive personality – who often has a lot of energy – is stubborn or even fanatical. Moreover, he is calculating, considering only his own desires, not those of others. He tends to destructive reactions if he can’t realize his goals. He engages in denigrating others, even acts of terror, in which he increasingly becomes more spiteful, fanatic, stubborn and obsessive, until he exhausts himself. Such personalities are to be found throughout history, and include the likes of Hitler and Stalin, who engulfed whole nations in the abyss.

These destructive energies can also be directed inwardly and cause severe compulsions, psychosis, depression, suicidal thoughts, suicide or organic damage like carcinoma, nephrosis, cirrhosis of the liver etc. Otherwise, the destructive person can be passionate and give much love, although this often goes with a certain exclusiveness and restriction. The destructive artist’s poor or inability to relate to others, his vast ignorance of other’s needs, his intransigence and unconformity with everything, enables him to fully mobilize his creative powers and free him for unconditionally living out his passions (to which he subordinates himself, others.) His passion knows no boundaries, as he lives only for his ideas, his work, even to the point of self-destruction. It is of primary importance that he can create this work, and that he can reduce the inner tension. The acknowledgement of his environment is desirable or expected, but only secondary. He doesn’t want to be successful by means of creating works which appeal to the public. He gives them his works and they must accept this work and himself as the artist. Only in this way is it possible for the destructive artist to express his trend-setting impulses or initiate cultural revolutions, as Beethoven did by introducing a change in music and creating his own language. His music isn’t smoothed or complaisant, it is a protest against the traditional form. “Based on Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven developed the traditional forms of sonata, symphony and chamber music into expressions of passionate inner feelings by means of the wealth and daringness of his thematic conversons and the power of rhythmic movement” (Brockhaus).

When listening to Mozart’s and Beethoven’s music, Mozart’s music rather appears to me to be light, playful and warm, whereas Beethoven’s music rather appears to be heavy, powerful, stirring and grand. After hearing Beethoven, the young composer Wenzel Tomaschek said in 1796: “Beethoven’s magnificent performance and especially the bold realization of his fantasy unsettled my mind in a very unfamiliar way. When comparing both, I consider Mozart’s mind to be a sun which warms and gleams, without leaving her legitimate orbit. Beethoven I consider to be a comet moving boldly on the path without subordinating to a system.”

Mozart is described as being easygoing and companionable by his contemporaries, but he was easily discouraged and not very disciplined. He postponed everything from one day to the other, wasted money, enjoyed to be beguiled by flattery and always needed “a person who leads him”. Here, in a few words a man is characterized as representing the lymphatic diathesis. The lymphatic person is open to the world, is in relationship with her and wants to please and appeal with his work. He is rather conservative and needs reassurance from his environment because of his insecurities. His art develops out of his relationship with and in interplay with the world.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven is described as a Titan in biographies but there are also reports and “stories” from contemporaries and friends which make the human visible. The notes written in his “conversation booklets”, which he used to communicate his ideas during the time of his deafness, give another impression about his daily life and “usual” worries. With reservations, I’m now attempting to take a “homeopathic anamnesis” of Beethoven. We find a lot of destructive characteristics, also lithaemic and lymphatic features, as we always find a mixture of different diatheses in all our patients. But the destructive diathesis surely stands in the foreground. I am most interested in the “human” aspects of Beethoven. I don’t want to go into detail with regard to music, but maybe understanding the human and knowing his environmental circumstances can provide a different understanding of his music, and also give a deeper insight into the destructive diathesis.

The timetable at the end of the article gives a short overview of the most important events in Beethoven’s life, the date of origin of important works and important diseases and problems in different periods of his life.



Family anamnesis


Grandmother (paternal)

Ill with nerves, alcoholic




Tendency to melancholy, tuberculous phthisis (died at age 40)



In his youth Beethoven is described as a man with a “strong, almost coarse figure, short and plump, with a short throat and broad shoulders,…with a thick head, and a strong and broadly rounded forehead, a round nose and black-brown facial color. He used to walk bent forward and has been called a “spangol” due to his dark facial color.” As a young man (in the first Viennese years) the pianist von Bernhard described him as follows: “He was small and unimpressive, and had an ugly red face full of pockmarks. His hair was very dark and hung down shaggily around his face. His suit was very usual. He spoke with a Rhenish dialect but did not express himself with much elocution. Overall, his appearance did not reveal any education but he was rather mannerless in his behavior and gestures. He was very awkward in his movements and attitude.” Therefor he never learned to dance and often overthrew things, and he used to spit around.

As an old man he is described by a visitor as follows: “If I hadn’t been prepared, his appearance would have disturbed me too. It was not his neglected, almost wild outward appearance, not the thick, black hair that hung down shaggily around his head, but the whole of his appearance. Think of a man of about fifty years, more of a short than of a middle figure, but very strong and stout, plump, and with a heavy bone structure – almost like Fichte but more fleshy and especially with a fuller and more round face; red healthy color; restless, blazing almost piercing eyes when fixing them; no or hasty movements…”

The condition of clothes and wardrobe was bedraggled according to his housekeeper. “He hasn’t even had a good skirt neither a shirt.” Once he had been arrested by the police as they thought him to be a vagabond because of his appearance.

The engraver Blasius Höfel reports the following story: “In the year 1820 I had been sitting with colleagues and the police inspector in the garden of a hostelry on the edge of the town. It was autumn and already dark outside when a police servant came and reported to the commissar: ”Commissar, we have arrested someone who doesn’t keep quiet and is screaming all the time that he was Beethoven. But he is a lump, he doesn’t have a hat, and an old skirt etc.” … On the next evening the commissar said that the police servant woke him up at about 11p.m. and reported that the prisoner did not keep quiet and requires to call for the musical director of Vienna Neustadt to identify him… and as soon as he saw the man he declared: “This is Beethoven”, and took him home… It turned out that Beethoven had gone out in the early morning for a short walk. Absorbed in his thoughts he had lost his direction, and hadn’t had anything to eat and finally arrived at the canal bassin in Vienna Neustadt. Here, he was observed looking into the windows of the houses as he didn’t know where he was. As he looked like a beggar, so the people called for the police who arrested him. When being arrested he said: “I’m Beethoven” , but was answered “Why not? You are a lump, Beethoven doesn’t look like you!”

On the other hand, Grillparzer described him during his first Viennese years as being “carefully and even elegantly dressed. Only later did he neglect himself until uncleanness.”


Beethoven as a child and adolescent

Beethoven was the second of seven children of whom only three survived – Ludwig and his two younger brothers, wherefore he had to accept the role of the eldest. With regard to diseases, it is only known that he had had the pox. As a child Beethoven was often left to his own devices. Although being up for jokes he was most often serious, shy and thoughtful, even morose and taciturn – an introverted loner. Leaning with his head in his hands he often looked out of the window, so much absorbed in his thoughts that he did not react when being spoken to.

His father – a court musician in Bonn – had probably always been an alcoholic. He was extremely demanding, sometimes even cruel to his son and only wanted to exploit his son’s talents. At the age of four or five Ludwig was often awakened by his father in the middle for the night and he had to practice musical rules and playing the piano and violin for several hours until dawn. Nothing is known about his feelings for his father, but it is known that Ludwig felt attached to his mother and with much fondness.

Ludwig attended school until the age of eleven. His orthography was miserable all his life. He never learned to calculate, as he never grasped addition, so he had problems when counting the tact’s and notations all his life. In later books of household accounts his problems become obvious, as there are entries of his housekeeper and angry cancellation’s and despairing attempts of Beethoven to recalculate the listed amounts.

His career as a child prodigy began early. At the age of seven he gave several piano concerts. At twelve he was a harpsichordist in the orchestra of the electoral chapel in Bonn. A year later he became the regular second court organist. At the time he had already written three piano sonatas and was already compared with Mozart. Having these accomplishments he already lead the life of an adult, at an early age. He had to be available for the royal court well into the night.

When Ludwig was seventeen his mother, aged forty, died from tuberculosis. Thereupon he became very anxious that his distressing “tightness of chest” could develop into phthisis. Probably the tightness of chest was due to bronchitis from which he suffered repeatedly during his life. In 1817 (30 years later) Beethoven commented that his suffering “has eventually been declared for lung disease” by a physician. Several documents reveal his tendency to hypochondria. Moreover, he suffered from “melancholia” which was “almost as bad for him as his disease”. After his mother died his father’s alcoholism worsened so that the seventeen year old, being the eldest, was forced to take on the responsibility for the family and care for their livelihood. He convinced the sovereign to leave him the half of his father’s salary so that, at least this part could be used for the family and not everything was spent in the hostelry. The sovereign’s opinion about Beethoven’s father becomes obvious by his sharp comment about his death (Beethoven was already in Vienna at this time): “Beethoven’s death will result in a decrease of the beverage taxes”.

The young Beethoven found care and attention in the Bonn noble family Breuning, where he had been received like their own child. According to reports of contemporaries “He felt free and moved with easiness there. This all provoked his cheerfulness and supported the development of his mind.” The son of the house became his lifelong friend, and in this house he met important Bonn personalities who gave him essential mental impulses for his further development.


The Adult Beethoven

In 1792 Beethoven came to Vienna to study composition with Haydn, Albrechtsberger and Salieri. Soon he met his main supporter, the sovereign Lichnovsky. During the first Viennese years he was in high spirits. He had a riding horse and largely adapted his clothes and life style to his noble environment. Within a short time he was a celebrated pianist due to his virtuosity. His audiences rose from their seats and he moved them to tears. When he ended an improvisation of this kind he could burst into laughter and taunt his listeners for the emotions he caused in them to have. “You are fools” he said.

Unlike Mozart, who played in a smooth and flowing manner, Beethoven hammered the keys so hard in his endeavor for orchestral sonority, that the strings snapped. To achieve a more powerful sound he asked the piano maker to build a better instrument than the Viennese grand piano, which sounded like a harp to him.

In 1795 he presented his Opus no.1. Beethoven soon became dissatisfied with his teacher Haydn, and also with Albrechtsberger, who called him “an eccentric musical freethinker who would never make something useful”. He overrode the recognized harmonics of the time and went his own path with compositions. He refused to adapt with regard to music, and in his daily life he never considered any conventions.

Until that time artists (also Mozart) had understood themselves as artificers who provided a service, but the idea of making art for the sake of themselves was alien to them. Beethoven, however, emphasized his artistry. He felt himself an artist and creative person, and as such, superior to the crowned noblemen and heads of state. Unusual for the time, he was required to sit at the table of his noble hosts. On the occasion of an argument Beethoven wrote to the sovereign Lichnovsky: “Sovereign, What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself. There are and will be a thousand princes; but there is only one Beethoven.”

He also refused to play for the entertainment of the guests of his main supporter, sovereign Lichnovsky, which was a clear affront. Once, there almost a violent fight when the sovereign wanted to kick the door of the room open in which Beethoven had secured himself. Beethoven had already raised the chair “to shatter him on the sovereign’s head in his own house”. Beethoven immediately left, and the day after, when joining a party, he pretended not to know the sovereign whom he had to thank for everything in Vienna.

He never adapted to any area of his environment, and never appeared as an applicant but rather expected others to act in accordance with him. He felt that his favorers accorded him financial aid to enable him a life dedicated to music which has nobody had produced before. When the financial aids weren’t granted he went to court to demand them. This anecdote illustrates Beethoven’s attitude: In 1812 he was in a health resort in Teplitz for treatment of his headaches. While on a walk with Goethe in Teplitz the empress and dukes with the whole royal suite approached. Beethoven now said to Teplitz, “Just remain hanging in my arms, they have to make way, not us.” Goethe didn’t agree and felt unpleasant; he uncoupled from Beethoven’s arm and stepped aside, taking off his hat whereas Beethoven went through the dukes, his arms crossed and adjusting his hat slightly. To make room the others split to both sides and greeted him in a friendly manner. On the other side he stopped, waiting for Goethe who had left the others walking, whilst bowing low. Now told Goethe, “I’ve been waiting for you because I respect and honor you as you deserve it, but to those others, you have shown too much respect.” Later Goethe remarked “… I have never seen another artist in this snatched up, forceful, inner way. I surely understand how queer he must stand towards the world.”

“He was very proud. One day I saw the eccentric countess Thun kneeling before him and asking him to play the piano…” Beethoven did not comply with her request. (pianist von Bernhard)

In the company of others he was impatient, cross, impolite, rude, uncompromising, violent, fierce, sensitive, suspicious and convinced that everybody wanted to betray him. He was known for his extreme fits of temper. We can find these explosions for example in different comments: “He is not to come to me again. He is a treacherous dog and may the flayer get all such treacherous dogs..” On the next day he was conciliable again” Herzens Natzerl, You are an honest fellow and I now see you were right… A kiss fromYour Beethoven. [Also called Mehlschöberl [‘Mehlschöberl, said to be Viennese dialect for a sort of soup dumpling, but Specht gives ‘a person who stacks flour.’]

Ries reported the following: “… Sometimes Beethoven was extremely violent. One day we were eating lunch in the hostelry To the Swan; the waiter brought him a wrong dish. As soon as Beethoven had said some words about it which were answered by the waiter immodestly, he caught the dish and threw it on the waiter’s head. The poor fellow still had several other dishes in his arm … and could not help himself; the broth was running over his face. He and Beethoven were screaming and ranting whereas all the other guests laughed out loud. Finally also Beethoven laughed because of the waiters look. He was licking the sauce up which was running over his face, and could not rant because he had to lick and made the most ridiculous faces…”

On the other hand it is often mentioned how efficient and calculating Beethoven could be to preserve his interests, whilst holding his hand open to needy others. He supported the reformatory and the factory of the poor Ursulinen in Graz by dedicating his compositions. “No one of my friends shall live in want as long as I have something.”

His restlessness is demonstrated by his almost morbid tendency to move. In the course of time he lived in about thirty places in Vienna, and often had several habitations at the same time. He was a very restless and unpleasant tenant. He felt disturbed by everything and disturbed all the others. He played the piano loudly and at inappropriate times. He used to march while composing, grumbled, howled and stamped with his feet. He caused overflows which leached into other rooms because he used to stay before the wash-bowl and wash his hands with large of amounts of water. He often poured water over himself when composing.

This caused arguments with his hosts with whom he frequently quarreled about rent money and the manner of allocating it, as well as the poor clarity of the windows and the quality and costs of lighting. At one time he had four habitations at the same time because of all the trouble. He forgot some of them or to pay the rent because of his absent-mindedness. Although friends helped him with the unpleasantness of daily life he made them responsible for his misery, which made waves, understandably. The following episode illustrates him being a difficult tenant. He felt disturbed that he could not see directly to the green of the prater without having to lean out of the window. He decided to let a mason break a hole in the wall to get a direct view to the prater. When the renter made allegations against Beethoven, he moved out.

Often he did something out of spite towards his hosts, such as the Baron Pronay, who made him four rooms in his villa and made the park available to him. He was just asked not to make noise in the garden room, because the baron used to sleep below this. However, Beethoven used this room most often after having been angry about his host, pacing around in the room, and drumming with his fists on the table.

There was chaos most of the time, wherever Beethoven lived. The chapel master, Seyfried, described one situation as follows, “… There dominated a truly admirable confusion in his household. Books and music supplies were scattered in all corners – there the small rest of a cold snack – here, sealed or half empty bottles of wine – there, on the standing desk the hasty draft of a new Quattuor – here the Rudera de Dejeuners – there, at the piano, on scribbled pages, the material for a symphony – here a correction – amicable and business letters covering the floor – between the windows a respectable loaf of Stracchino [Italian cheese], ad latus remains of a real Veronese salami – and despite this mess the master used to point out his accurateness and orderliness whenever possible, contrary to reality. Only when something was looked for hours, days or often weeks and his efforts were fruitless, his tone changed, and he miserably moaned. That is a disaster! Nothing can remain at its place, everything is displaced; everything happens to monkey about with me!”

Beethoven constantly complained about two things: the costs – although his financial condition was good in most times – and about his staff. His deafness made him even more suspicious towards his environment; he constantly assumed conspiracies against him. When he did not find something (his forgetfulness is also described) he blamed his servants. He scolded them or lashed out so that his friends repeatedly advised him: “Don’t hit them, this could cause trouble with the police!” When removing the dust took too much time he just knocked the water tub over.If he get a bold sounding answer the other got a slap in the face.When the eggs were bad they were thrown out of the window on the alleyway or after the housekeeper who was always ready to flee. No wonder, that housekeeper, scullery-maids and parlor maids were constantly changing. Often they were discharged within a week. Often, they left because of Beethoven’s mood, fits of rages and suspicions. He got very angry when the meal was not prepared to his satisfaction. His favorite dishes were macaroni and Parmesan cheese, fish dishes. He especially liked oysters, blood sausage, and the “veal”. He loved to drink fresh well water, but was fond of alcohol all his life, preferring false wine, of which he drank a bottle each day. He also loved coffee, daily counting the number of beans for his morning coffee by himself – it had to be exactly 60 beans for a cup of coffee.

When Beethoven did not work he used to be in coffee houses and pubs where he told jokes. Most of his leisure time he used for walks, preferably in untouched nature. But not only his desire for recuperation drew him to nature: “My unfortunate ear doesn’t bother me there. It is as if every tree would talk to me in the countryside, sacred, sacred!”

In nature also his pent up emotions could dissolve: “Just a few days in this divine Briel – longing or desire – liberation or fulfillment!” (1818 during a summer stay in Mödling)

Unlike Mozart, Beethoven did not travel far from his health resorts in Teplitz and Karlsbad and beyond his journeys across Prag and Dresden to Berlin; he spent his vacation in the environment of Vienna, mostly in Baden or Mödling.



During the first Viennese years Beethoven was described as flattering the women effortlessly. He “enjoyed seeing women, especially the beautiful, youthful faces, and he used to turn around when walking by lovely girls. He watched them sharply with his glass and laughed or grinned when being noticed. He frequently fell in love but often only for a short time. Once I teased him because of the conquest of a beautiful lady who had fascinated him the most and for the longest – for a full seven months.” (F.Ries)

On the other hand it was reported that the singer Magdalena Willmann refused his proposal at that time “because he was so ugly, and half crazy “. As verified from letters to his friends he used to satisfy his sexual needs by visiting prostitutes. He had an ambivalent attitude about this: “Sensual pleasure without a unification of the souls is and remains brutish: after this one doesn’t feel noble but rather remorse.” He frequently fell in love with unreachable women of society whom he did not truly win, the social differences always being a hindrance.

Beethoven’s depressive mood, as demonstrated in his Heiligenstadt Testament in 1802, was caused by the certainty of his deafness, but also by the refused proposal on the part of the seventeen year old Comtesse Giulietta Guicciardi, for whom he wrote the “Moonlight sonata” in 1801. “Only love – only love can give you a more happy life – my God – let me find her – the one which strengthens my virtues – and which is allowed to be mine.”

He dedicated his “Album papers for Elise” to Therese Malfatti who he adored very much. He was cut to the quick when she refused his proposal in 1810.

In July 1812 he wrote to his “immortal beloved”: “Can you change that you are not entirely mine, and that I’m not entirely yours? … Love requires everything and lawfully; so it is with me for you, and for me with you. Now you easily forget that I have to live for me and for you. If we were united entirely you would feel the pain as little as me.” The letter was never sent as the woman of his heart was not free (the letter was found in his inheritance). Abandoning his personal bliss of love caused a similar crisis situation in 1802. Beethoven suffered from severe depression with suicidal thoughts until 1813.

About the author

Heinz Tauer

Heinz Tauer

Dr. med. Heinz Tauer is a General Practitioner and homeopath. He studied medicine in Vienna and received homeopathic education with Dorcsi, Stübler, Künzli, Klunker, Sankaran etc. He has had a private homeopathic practice in Vienna since 1980. He teaches in Austria, Germany (Freudenstadt), Czech Republic and Russia. From 1988-1996 he was a board member of the ÖGHM, and from 2001-2004 was treasurer of the LMHI. He has produced several publications on homeopathy.

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