Skip to comments.Beethoven Died From Lead Poisoning
Posted on 12/07/2005 3:22:00 PM PST by blam
Beethoven died from lead poisoning
Wednesday, 7 December 2005
Lead poisoning may even have caused Ludwig van Beethoven's deafness (portrait in oil by JK Stieler) (Image: US DOE)
Tests on the hair and skull fragments of Ludwig van Beethoven show the legendary 19th century German composer died from lead poisoning, scientists say.
Bone fragments from Beethoven's skull had high concentrations of lead, matching an earlier finding of lead in his hair, say researchers at the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.
"The finding of elevated lead in Beethoven's skull, along with DNA results indicating authenticity of the bone-hair relics, provides solid evidence that Beethoven suffered from a toxic overload of lead," says Dr Bill Walsh, director of the Beethoven Research Project.
"There is no doubt in my mind ... he was a victim of lead poisoning," he says.
Beethoven, whose piano, chamber and symphonic works count as some of the greatest of Western classical music, died at 56 in 1827 after years of struggling with unknown ailments, including progressive deafness in his later years.
He had begun suffering from abdominal pains at 20 that worsened throughout his life, and the composer saw a large number of physicians in search of a cure.
The description of his symptoms and the results of an autopsy shortly after his death are also consistent with lead poisoning, Walsh says.
"Beethoven suffered from bad digestion, chronic abdominal pain, irritability and depression," says Walsh, a medical toxicologist at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Warrenville, Illinois.
Walsh also says that lead poisoning may have caused Beethoven's deafness.
Beethoven's hair also contains high levels of lead (Image: DOE)
The tests on the composer's bone fragments were made at the laboratory's Advanced Photon Source, an 800 metre particle accelerator that can fire intense x-rays 100 times brighter than the surface of the Sun.
By directing the x-rays through the bone fragments, the scientists could measure the presence of key elements, without destroying the bones.
The results showed no detectable levels of either cadmium or mercury, the scientists say, which were previously thought to be possible causes of Beethoven's illnesses.
But lead levels were pronounced, and half-life measurements of the lead suggest it was present in Beethoven's body for many years, according to the scientists.
The source of the lead is unknown, but they say some people speculate that Beethoven drank a respectable amount of wine, and the lead may have come from a wine goblet made with the metal.
Alternatively, some medical treatments in the 18th and 19th centuries made use of heavy metals like lead and mercury.
So did a passenger on an American Airlines plane today.
We Houston folk... GMTA! LOL!
One wonders if, from a musical perspective, Beethoven would have been half as great without his malady....
Couldn't help it.
Thank God for allowing the genius gift He gave to Beethoven, for the world to enjoy his beautiful music.
I'll second that.
The 9th/4th is the best musical work ever written.
One wonders. Steven Hawkings...?
Were did the lead come from?
Paint used to be one of the biggies in the early 1900s ... not sure about earlier.
56 years young, and yet the massive body of works of sheer genius. Just imagine had he lived as long as Haydn or Handel.
I hope this isn't considered break news. Fox might interupt Greta with it.
"Were did the lead come from?"
I know that lead was commonly used to solder tin cans for food storage. Lead was also used in paints, glass, water pipes, etc.
Having said that, everything I'm reading says that nothing "normal" in his life would've explained this high level.
What do you mean??
The birth of Heavy Metal.
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