Stephen Breslow says there are two things about Beethoven that explain the composer's famously neurotic personality. One is well known _ that he was more or less deaf from about age 30 on. The other is not so widely familiar.
"His father was an alcoholic," says Breslow, author of a play about Beethoven, A Quartet From 1812. "It's that premise _ Beethoven as the child of an alcoholic _ that underlies the play, because as we know now, it reveals so much about where a person is coming from."
Beethoven's mother died when he was 17, leaving him on his own to cope with his father, who was "a poor musician _ better known as a drunkard," as the composer says in a scene from Breslow's play.
"Beethoven's only real human connection all his life was with his mother," Breslow says. "Like many children of alcoholics, he never solidified his human relations, he always felt like an outsider, he felt separated. He never married, never had a permanent relationship with a woman."
Breslow believes there's a connection between Beethoven's unhappy life and his work: "A lot of his basic emotional energy stemmed from his anger and isolation. Once he started going deaf, that only exacerbated his feelings of being an outcast."
In the early 19th century, Beethoven's deafness was incurable, but Breslow says it probably could have been treated today with antibiotics. "His hearing problems started around 1800, when he was 30, and it was an intermittent disease. Sometimes his hearing would improve, then it would get worse. By 1815, he was no longer performing as a pianist, because he couldn't hear the notes anymore."
A Quartet From 1812, a one-act play, is about an encounter between Beethoven and his friend, the German writer Goethe. It is being performed for the first time this weekend at an Ybor City art gallery as part of the Florida Orchestra's Beethoven festival.
Breslow, a former English professor at the University of Tampa, began working on the play several years ago. "It started out as a mammoth stage play, then became a screenplay. Now, I've adapted it for this short play."
The playwright read "everything I could get my hands on" in doing research. He tackled the standard two-volume biography, Thayer's Life of Beethoven, but, of all he read, John N. Burk's The Life and Works of Beethoven, published in 1943, was his favorite. "It's written in a way that brought Beethoven's life to the fore in a vivid, meaningful way."
Breslow played violin for 10 years, and he's always loved Beethoven. If he had to go to a desert island and could take only one recording of a Beethoven work, he says his choice would be Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral).
AT A GLANCE
Stephen Breslow's play about Beethoven, A Quartet From 1812, performed as part of the Florida Orchestra's Beethoven festival, is tonight and Sunday night at 8 at Brad Cooper Gallery, 1712 Seventh Ave. E, Ybor City. Tickets are $12. Call 248-6098 in Tampa.