Hair Analysis of Beethoven: What did the musical genius die of? – Knowledge

With the help of original locks of hair, a research team has identified the genetic makeup of Ludwig van Beethoven examined. Accordingly, Beethoven had a hereditary susceptibility to cirrhosis of the liver and was infected with hepatitis B in the months before his death, according to scientists in the journal Current Biology write. Combined with his alcohol consumption, these factors could have led to progressive liver failure. The master died on March 26, 1827 at the age of 56.

Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770 and later moved to Vienna. He is considered one of the most important composers in the history of music. Among other things, he penned “Für Elise” and the melody of the European anthem (“Ode to Joy”) from the last part of his famous 9th symphony.

Since Beethoven’s death, experts have been thinking about his illnesses and their causes. The main focus was on historical documents, such as Beethoven’s letters and diaries, notes from his doctors and an autopsy report. In addition, several tissue samples including hair were examined – which at least in part do not come from the composer, as the researchers, including from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI EVA), the University Hospital Bonn and the Beethoven House Bonn, now write.

Of eight locks of hair allegedly from the artist, the team classified only five as authentic

The group analyzed a total of eight strands of hair allegedly belonging to Beethoven from the last years of his life, which were made available by public and private collections. The team classified five of them as authentic and sequenced Beethoven’s genome using the best preserved, the so-called blunt curl. They found “a number of significant genetic risk factors for liver disease,” according to a statement from the University Hospital in Bonn.

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The team also found DNA from hepatitis B viruses in Beethoven’s hair. These can trigger liver inflammation and are transmitted, among other things, during sex or through contaminated surgical tools.

The so-called Moscheles curl is apparently real – but others are not.


“We cannot say with certainty what Beethoven died of, but we can at least now prove the existence of a significant hereditary risk of liver cirrhosis and infection with the hepatitis B virus,” said Johannes Krause from the MPI EVA, according to the release.

The researchers also looked in the genome for the causes of two other ailments of the master – but did not really find anything. From his late 20s, Beethoven had to struggle with increasing hearing loss. He was completely deaf for the last few years of his life. However, the DNA analyzes did not provide any clear indication of a genetic cause for the hearing loss.

There were also no indications in Beethoven’s genome of long-lasting gastrointestinal complaints with pain and diarrhea. However, gluten and lactose intolerance can most likely be ruled out as causes, as the university clinic writes.

The study authors are also concerned about the extent to which Beethoven’s alcohol consumption contributed to his liver disease. “Beethoven’s ‘conversation notebooks’, which he used in the last decade of his life, suggest that he was a very regular alcoholic,” said co-author Tristan Bregg of the University of Cambridge, according to the release. Determining the exact amounts is difficult. “In our estimation, the amounts of alcohol that are now known to be harmful to the liver should still have been involved.”

According to the study, the analyzed Beethoven genetic material indicates that there must have been a child from an extramarital relationship in Beethoven’s paternal line since the 1570s. According to the researchers, no evidence was found that Beethoven himself was a cuckoo child.

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