Billroth and Brahms: A Study in Science and Music (1999)

J. Lee Sedwick

"Theodor Billroth Operating" by Adalbert Seligmann, and Johann Brahms (1892)
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Date Added: 11 years ago.

Documentary Description

A film biography of 19th century surgeon, Theodor Billroth (1829-1894), and composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1898), centering on their accomplishments and long friendship. This is the full film (an abridged version is also posted). It is one of a series of medical history films by J. Lee Sedwick, M.D., F.A.C.S., Clincal Professor of Surgery, East Carolina University, and Larry Gardner, President of Digifonics, Inc.

Christian Albert Theodor Billroth (26 April 1829 at Bergen auf Rügen in the Kingdom of Prussia – 6 February 1894) was a German-born Austrian surgeon and amateur musician. As a surgeon, he is generally regarded as the founding father of modern abdominal surgery. As a musician, he was a close friend and confidante of Johannes Brahms, a leading patron of the Viennese musical scene, and one of the first to attempt a scientific analysis of musicality. Billroth went to school in Greifswald, and afterwards enrolled himself at the University of Greifswald to study medicine. He then followed his professor, Wilhelm Baum, to the University of Göttingen, and completed his medical doctorate at the University of Berlin. Along with Rudolph Wagner (1805-1864) and Georg Meissner (1829-1905), Billroth went to Trieste to study the torpedo fish. He worked as a doctor from 1853-1860 at the Charité in Berlin. In Berlin he was also apprenticed to Carl Langenbuch. From 1860-1867 he was Professor at the University of Zurich and director of the surgical hospital and clinic in Zurich. While in Zurich, Billroth published his classic textbook Die allgemeine chirurgische Pathologie und Therapie (General Surgical Pathology and Therapy) (1863). At the same time he introduced the concept of audits, publishing all results, good and bad, which automatically resulted in honest discussion on morbidity, mortality, and techniques - with resultant improvement in patient selection. He was appointed professor of surgery at the University of Vienna in 1867 and practiced surgery as chief of the Second Surgical Clinic at the Allgemeine Krankenhaus (Vienna General Hospital). He was directly responsible for a number of landmarks in surgery, including the first esophagectomy (1871), the first laryngectomy (1873), and most famously, the first successful gastrectomy (1881) for gastric cancer, after many ill-fated attempts. Legend has it that Billroth was nearly stoned to death in the streets of Vienna when his first gastrectomy patient died after the procedure. Billroth was also instrumental in establishing the first modern school of thought in surgery. Among his disciples were luminaries such as Alexander von Winiwarter, Jan Mikulicz-Radecki and John B. Murphy. William Halsted's pioneer surgical residency program was greatly influenced by Billroth's own methods of surgical education.

Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897), was a German composer and pianist, one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene. In his lifetime, Brahms' popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the Three Bs. Brahms composed for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he gave the first performance of many of his own works; he also worked with the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed many of his works and left some of them unpublished. Brahms was at once a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined method of composition for which Bach is famous, and also of development, a compositional ethos pioneered by Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Beethoven. Brahms aimed to honour the "purity" of these venerable "German" structures and advance them into a Romantic idiom, in the process creating bold new approaches to harmony and melody. While many contemporaries found his music too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as the progressive Arnold Schoenberg and the conservative Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers.
Source: Wikipedia

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