Music and madness at Vail Symposium
July 7, 2010
Composers Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Bernstein have more in common than their musical genius. According to Dr. Richard Kogan, they were all also influenced by personal struggles with mental illness. As a psychiatrist in New York City, as well as an award-winning concert pianist, Dr. Kogan has a unique perspective on how mental illness can also confer creative advantages. For more than 10 years, Dr. Kogan has combined his two passions and explored the reciprocal relationship between musical creativity and intellectual madness, which is what he’ll discuss tonight at a Vail Symposium event at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek.
“Dr. Kogan takes the audience on an intellectual journey combining the emotion of his musical talent in an energetic piano performance while guiding the audience through a keyhole of the creative minds of some world’s most celebrated composers,” said Vail Symposium board member Lynette Dallas.
In honor of German composer Robert Schumann’s bicentenary, Kogan will explore the composer’s life and the poignant masterpieces he created. Schumann suffered from bipolar disorder, which is characterized by dramatic mood swings and periods of severe depression or mania. The performance and presentation will integrate an in-depth analysis of Schumann’s life from a mind-body perspective.
The performance/lecture, titled “Schumann at 200: Music, Mood Swings and Madness,” begins at 5:30 p.m. with a reception, followed by the presentation at 6 p.m.
While researching for a presentation on musical creativity and mental illness at the American Psychiatric Association, Kogan realized many composers, including Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann, experienced symptoms similar to many of his patients.
“I noticed that Schumann would describe periods of intense creativity where he wouldn’t sleep for long periods of time, and would complete two works in two weeks,” Kogan said. “And then he would have long periods without writing anything. Bipolar disease was not known at the time, but his descriptions fit the characteristics I was seeing with my patients.”
Through his research, Kogan recognized a correlation between musical productivity and periods of mania throughout Schumann’s life. An article in Psychology Today noted that in 1839, during a year of depression, Schumann composed four complete works, while in 1840, a period of mania, he completed 25. Kogan doesn’t believe the quality of Schumann’s work was sacrificed during these periods of productivity.
“Schumann was often prolific in both quality and quantity, neither was sacrificed for the other,” he said.
Aside from productivity, Kogan recognized that creativity and musical expression might affect mental illnesses. Even some of the composers recognized music as an avenue to express their intense thoughts and inner emotions.
“Without music,” wrote Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “I would go insane.”
And Schumann was quoted as saying, “the only reason for writing a musical composition is to reveal the composer’s inner state of mind.”
Music’s potential healing power especially interests Kogan, he said.
“I found that for many of these geniuses, musical creativity helped to make sense of an incomprehensible world,” Kogan said. “For Schumann, the act of writing music provided an organizing effect; a temporary inner harmony.”
Kogan has given performance/lectures like he’ll give tonight to an array of audiences including medical centers, music festivals and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He’s been praised by people who have attended, including musical genius Yo-Yo Ma who recently performed at Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival’s opening night.
“I came away from this extraordinary lecture and performance deeply moved by a fascinating presentation that only Dr. Kogan can deliver,” Ma said.
Evan Fairmont is the program coordinator for the Vail Symposium. E-mail comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org