Beethoven: Locks of hair give new clues on composer's health before death

Thursday, 23 March 2023 (11:25 IST)
Five locks of Ludwig van Beethoven's hair have provided new clues into the legendary musical composer's health before he died in 1827.
A group of researchers led by Cambridge University managed to pull strands of DNA from Beethoven's hair, with the findings published by the Cell Press journal Current Biology on Wednesday.
Beethoven's liver disease linked to genetic factors 
One of the study's co-authors, German researcher Markus Nothen, said the hair revealed that Beethoven had a "strong genetic disposition to liver disease." Beethoven is believed to have died at the age of 56 from cirrhosis, which is often the result of chronic drinking.   
Sequences of the hepatitis B were also found in the composer's locks.
"We believe the disease arose from an interplay of genetic disposition, well documented chronic alcohol consumption and hepatitis B infection," Nothen added. 
Cambridge University anthropologist Tristan Begg, the study's lead author, said Beethoven's liver disease risk stems mostly from mutations in two genes, PNPLA3 and HFE. 
"On their own, these risk factors are not of great concern to most people who have them, but there would have been a harmful interaction effect with his alcohol consumption," Begg said. "Prior to this study, alcohol was the only definitely known risk factor for Beethoven's liver disease."
At the same time, the researchers were unable to trace the cause of Beethoven's hearing loss, which began when the German composer was in his 20s. By his mid 40s, Beethoven was completely deaf. 
"We were ultimately unable to find a genetic explanation for Beethoven's hearing loss," Begg said. The researchers did not find evidence that Otosclerosis or Paget's disease triggered the composer's deafness.
Another researcher in the study, Axel Schmidt, said Beethoven's illnesses "sometimes very much limited his creative work."  
Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770 and struggled with health problems throughout his life. This Sunday is the 196th anniversary of the composer's 1827 death in Vienna. 
Some of Beethoven's prominent works include Symphony No. 9 and Piano Sonata No.14, which is also known as the The Moonlight Sonata. The solo piano piece known as Für Elise is also one of his most famous compositions.

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