He was the definition of a haunted genius, battling deafness to compose symphonies he couldn’t quite hear.
And the hapless Beethoven also appears to have had hepatitis B and a genetic risk for liver disease, meaning his love of wine may not have been the sole cause of his death.
Geneticists pieced together the medical history of Ludwig van Beethoven, who died in 1827, using clues from five verified locks of his hair.
The composer enjoyed a drink so much that his reported last words, after receiving Rhenish wine as a gift on his deathbed, were: ‘Too bad! Too late!’
But the new findings, that he was infected with the liver-damaging virus Hepatitis B and had a genetic predisposition to liver problems, suggest that his death from probable liver cirrhosis was not solely due to alcoholism.
German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770 in Bonn and died in Vienna in 1827 at the age of 56
Scientists have analyzed five strands of what is believed to be Beethoven’s hair to determine the genome of the prodigious composer
A popular theory that Beethoven was deafened by lead, which was used to sweeten wine in the 19th century, may have been overturned by the new study.
That theory was largely based on a lock of hair thought to belong to the composer, which the new analysis says came from a woman of Jewish Ashkenazi descent.
And there’s a new exciting theory about the composer, as genetic analysis has found an illegitimate child in his family tree.
This finding, coming from modern relatives of Beethoven whose genes were sequenced, is imprecise and could have happened even seven generations after Beethoven (SUBS – please hold).
But it’s excitingly possible that the composer himself was the product of an illicit affair, and only half-brother to his brother Kaspar, though much more research would be needed to prove this (SUBS – last movement retained).
In 1802, Beethoven asked his physician to describe his illness and make this account public.
The great man’s health and cause of death have been debated ever since, but previously without the benefit of genetic testing.
Tristan Begg, lead author of the study from the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Most people who do genetic testing for fun, myself included, will find there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re related to everyone they thought they were. were, and the results are not surprising.
“But in this study, we had fascinating results in every branch we looked at, from disease risk to the family tree.
‘After eight years that was very exciting.’
The Moscheles lock, authenticated by the study, inscribed by former owner Ignaz Moscheles
The eight-year study, published in the journal Current Biology, analyzed eight hair samples attributed to Beethoven.
These five were verified to be from the same person – almost certainly the composer.
Researchers, who examined a total of 18 feet (555 cm) of Beethoven’s hair, found no genetic cause for his famous deafness, which began with tinnitus and loss of high frequencies in his twenties and led to him being mostly deaf by 1818 .
Nor was there a clear genetic cause for the “miserable” stomachaches and bouts of diarrhea that plagued the genius from his early twenties, although celiac disease and lactose intolerance can be ruled out and the composer had some genetic protection against IBS.
In the summer of 1821, Beethoven suffered the first of at least two bouts of jaundice, a symptom of liver disease.
Cirrhosis has long been recognized as the most likely cause of death at age 56.
Researchers discovered a number of genetic risk factors for liver disease and evidence of hepatitis B infection in the months leading up to the composer’s last illness.
Mr Begg said: ‘We hope that by making Beethoven’s genome publicly available to researchers, and perhaps by adding more authenticated locks to the first chronological sequence, the remaining questions about his health and genealogy can one day be answered. .’
Ludwig van Beethoven: The Defining Figure in the History of Western Music
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a German composer and pianist, who is arguably the defining figure in the history of Western music
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a German composer and pianist, who is perhaps the defining figure in the history of Western music.
Ludwig Van Beethoven was born in December 1770, but no one knows exactly on what date. He was baptized on the 17th.
The earliest recorded piece Beethoven composed is a set of nine piano variations composed in 1782.
Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792, where he met influential composers such as Haydn and began to compose seriously.
In 1796 he began to suffer from tinnitus and lost his hearing.
Beethoven composed his Piano Sonata No. 14 (‘Moonlight’) in 1802.
The Third Symphony, known as the ‘Eroica’, was completed in 1804.
It redefined the symphony as a genre.
The opening motif of the 1808 Fifth Symphony is one of the most famous musical fragments in history.
In the ‘middle period’ of Beethoven’s career, he also composed piano works such as the Waldstein and Apassionata sonatas, as well as his only opera, Fidelio, which underwent numerous rewrites and revisions.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the ‘Choral’ of 1824, is another work of his that has remained immensely popular.
It was the first time a composer had used choral voices in a major symphony.
Poor health and increasing deafness reduced productivity towards the end of Beethoven’s life, but he still managed to produce important works, such as his ‘Late Quartets’ in 1825, which were enormously inventive for the time.
Beethoven died in Vienna on March 26, 1827 after a long illness variously attributed to alcohol, hepatitis, cirrhosis and pneumonia.