Frederic Chopin, 1810-1849.
Frederic Chopin, 1810-1849.
Richard Kogan, M.D., lecturer of art and medicine.
Richard Kogan, M.D., lecturer of art and medicine.

Musician and Physician, Kogan, Explores the Life of Frederic Chopin

Musician and Physician, Kogan, Explores the Life of Frederic Chopin

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For the second year, the Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist (CPAM) welcomed Richard Kogan, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and artistic director of the Weill Cornell Music and Medicine Program to give the annual Susan and C. Richard Stasney M.D. CPAM Lecture in Arts and Medicine.

As a psychiatrist and concert pianist Kogan has spent his career trying to bridge the gap between art and medicine.

“These fields of music and medicine are genuinely, nowadays, thought of as separate domains with little overlap, but it wasn’t always that way,” Kogan said. “In many primitive cultures, the roles of physician and musician were played by the same person—they didn’t make a distinction because their only purpose was to heal.”

Throughout his career, in addition to healing his patients and offering renowned piano performances, the Julliard trained, Harvard graduate, Kogan, has explored the close relationship of art and medicine by examining the health struggles many famous composers faced.

This year at the Susan and C. Richard Stasney MD CPAM Lecture in Arts and Medicine, Kogan delved into the lifelong respiratory issues that plagued Frederic Chopin.

“Chopin’s life is an excellent example of the benefits of perspective that incorporates both music and medicine because Chopin’s life was dominated by medical illness,” Kogan said. “Frederic was a sickly child, he had to be fed a special diet just to gain weight and had chronic symptoms of respiratory distress.”

Born in Poland in 1810, Chopin was weak and sickly as a child, but excelled as a pianist. In spite of his health issues, he was quickly noticed for his musical talents.

“The Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich—a deranged man, he would insist on hearing music to soothe his troubled soul,” Kogan said. “He heard word that there was this brilliant young musician living nearby and starting at the age of eight, Chopin was regularly summoned to Belvedere Palace to play private recitals for the Grand Duke.”

In time, Kogan said, Chopin and his family realized he would have to leave the borders of Poland to share his gift of music with the world. When he was 20 years old, Chopin embarked on his journey to Paris, France.

Chopin quickly became a fixture on the artistic scene in Paris, but despised performing large concerts. Instead, Kogan says, Chopin became the unofficial piano teacher of the entire French Aristocracy.

“Chopin was a physical marvel—he had these small hands that could seemingly span and cover the entire keyboard,” Kogan said. “The most distinctive aspect of his play, was his use of “Tempo Robato,” which translates literally to stolen time, it alters the basic pulse of the music.”
Although pale and thin—at his peak weight, Chopin weighed a meager 95 lbs., he caught the attention of perhaps the most famous woman of the time, French novelist, Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, best known by her pseudonym, George Sand.

In the 10 years, Chopin spent with Sand, his health issues dominated their relationship.

“After seeing one of her former lovers lurking around her apartment holding a rifle, George Sand fled with her children and Chopin to Mallorca,” Kogan said. “She thought the Mediterranean Climate would also help Chopin’s illness.”

But it did the opposite. It was during this time that Chopin was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. However ill he was at the time, Kogan notes that while Chopin was in Mallorca, he completed the 24 Preludes.

Upon returning to Paris, his condition only worsened. Sand devoted herself to Chopin, becoming his caregiver until their breakup in 1847.

Two years later, Chopin died at the age of 39 forever leaving behind a genius legacy of Ballads, Preludes, Mazurkas, Impromptus and of course, “Tempo Robato.”

Kogan is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music Pre-college, Harvard College and Harvard Medical School. Kogan completed a psychiatric residency and academic psychiatry fellowship at NYU and has a private psychiatry practice in New York City.

“I think something has been gained by the increase in specialization of medicine, but my concern is that much has been lost,” Kogan said. “It is really important for those of us in the health care community not to lose sight of music’s extraordinary capacity to soothe anxiety, to reduce pain, to lift spirits.”

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