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Hear The Only Recording Of Freud’s Voice

What did Sigmund Freud sound like? We may imagine the heavily-accented, precisely-pronounced English fed to us by pop culture parodies and tributes from “Bill & Ted” to “A Dangerous Method.” While actual audio of Freud is surprisingly scarce, what little we do have seems to support the broader impressions that exist – though it comes with some caveats.

On September 9, 2018, Open Culture published a link to the only known recording of Sigmund Freud, made by a BBC radio crew at his Hampstead home. In the clip, from December 7, 1938, an 81-year-old Freud, recently arrived in England from his native Austria, which had been annexed by Nazi Germany, briefly describes his early practice that would ultimately become the field of psychoanalysis.

“I started my professional activity as a neurologist trying to bring relief to my neurotic patients. Under the influence of an older friend and by my own efforts, I discovered some important new facts about the unconscious in psychic life, the role of instinctual urges, and so on,” Freud says with a slow, deliberate pace in a fuzzy, lo-fi recording. “Out of these findings grew a new science: Psychoanalysis, a part of psychology, and a new method of treatment of the neuroses. I had to pay heavily for this bit of good luck. People did not believe in my facts and thought my theories unsavory. Resistance was strong and unrelenting. In the end I succeeded in acquiring pupils and building up an International Psychoanalytic Association. But the struggle is not yet over.”

When Freud recorded with the BBC he was almost at the end of his own struggle with jaw cancer. A lifetime of cigar smoking may have left Freud with a more halting and labored speech pattern than he had in his youth. His illness, paired with the fact that English was not his native language, likely give us a slanted idea of Freud’s skills as an orator.

Nine months after the recording Freud had his physician administer a fatal dose of morphine. Though in tremendous pain, the founder of psychoanalysis worked and read until his last day and, as evidenced by the radio clip, even did occasional press in his adopted country. It’s a shame Freud didn’t recover to commit his voice more to the airwaves. Given more time he might have fathered another medium: The call-in advice show.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected].

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