New clues on what killed Beethoven

Genetic analysis of locks of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair suggest that the composer died of liver disease traceable to infection with hepatitis B, according to a newly published study by a European research team, published in the journal Current Biology.

The research team, analyzing eight hair samples – a famous one proved not to be Beethoven’s – concluded that the composer’s “substantial genetic predisposition, [hepatitis B] infection, and alcohol consumption all present plausible causal factors in his liver disease, although the exact causal pattern cannot presently be determined.”

The researchers were unable to find a cause for his progressive hearing loss. They also found that one of the composer’s ancestors was born out of wedlock, and that a Flemish family named Beethoven is not related to the composer.

“The study also found that Beethoven did not have lead poisoning, as had been widely believed. Nor was he a Black man, as some had proposed,” The New York Times’ Gina Kolata reports:

The Current Biology study (caution: highly technical language):