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Beethoven’s death may be explained by his hair. Lead was not responsible for the death of the composer

A many times greater amount of poisonous substances in the body could probably have caused the fragile health of Ludwig van Beethoven. Scientists from the American Harvard University found this out while studying the composer’s hair. They further ruled out that only lead caused his death. Still, they’re still trying to figure out why he died.

Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most famous music composers. He was also a prodigious pianist, he started giving concerts at the age of seven. He composed his most famous works at a time when he was losing his hearing.

| Photo: Wikimedia Commons, free work

Frequent health complications, hearing loss and sometimes even death Ludwig van Beethoven could cause high levels of lead, arsenic and mercury in the body. New findings based on the analysis of the German composer’s hair have been published by biochemists from Harvard University in a professional journal Clinical Chemistry.

From two samples of curls, the research team found that lead levels were 64 times higher than normal in the first case and 95 times higher in the second. “Such amounts can be considered poisoning,” said study author Nader Rifai.

What was Beethoven’s life like?


Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most famous music composers.  He was also a prodigious pianist, he started giving concerts at the age of seven.  He composed his most famous works at a time when he was losing his hearing.

The Complicated Life of Beethoven: From an abused genius to a man who hated criticism

This was to explain why symptoms of lead poisoning such as hearing loss, muscle spasms and kidney abnormalities persisted throughout Beethoven’s life. However, experts do not believe that the substance was the sole cause of Beethoven’s death or deafness. “The values ​​were not high enough for that,” the researchers wrote.

Other substances such as arsenic and mercury, whose values ​​were increased up to fourteen times, should have contributed to chronic and other health problems.

Food poisoning

Scientists were trying to find out how Beethoven got dangerous substances into his body in such a huge amount. A likely explanation is that they have accumulated over decades of food and drink.

“Beethoven was known to be fond of wine, sometimes drinking a bottle a day. He didn’t even mind cheap wine stored in lead barrels or sweetened with lead,” he said CNN study co-author Paul Jannetto. He explained that adding lead acetate as a sweetener and preservative to wine was a common method used for over two thousand years.

The study revealed a high content of poisonous substances in Beethoven’s body:

Rifai then stated that in the 18th and 19th centuries lead was also used in glassmaking to give products a more transparent and attractive appearance.

The German composer was also fond of fish taken from the Danube. But the river used for fishing was at that time a place where waste from industrial buildings was discharged. Former river animals also contained arsenic and mercury.

Although the authors of the study definitively ruled out that Beethoven died of lead poisoning, his death remains a mystery to them. One of the past research claims that liver failure may have been the cause.

Problematic health

Ludwig van Beethoven had a fragile health. He often suffered from digestive, liver and kidney problems. He also had chronic physical clumsiness and memory problems. The situation gradually worsened and he even became deaf eleven years before his death.

From the DNA of his hair, scientists discovered Beethoven’s genetic risk for liver disease and a liver-damaging hepatitis B infection:


Five-day exhibition of the sheet music of Ludwig van Beethoven.  Illustrative image

Beethoven’s liver problems weren’t just caused by alcohol, researchers found

CNN recalled that in a letter to his brothers in 1802, Beethoven admitted how hopeless he felt as a composer struggling with hearing loss, but his work prevented him from taking his own life. He further stated that he did not want to leave before he had created all the works he felt the need to compose.

However, he himself wanted the public to know about the cause of his death, so he wrote the so-called Heiligenstadt will. He died in 1827.



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