New Study Reveals Beethoven’s Cause of Death and Family Secrets

  In March 1827, a generation of music master Beethoven closed his eyes forever in Vienna, the capital of music. After his death, historians have been trying to uncover the secrets of Beethoven’s death and his gradual loss of hearing through clues left in his diaries, letters or medical records.
  Now, with the help of the power of science, these mysteries have new answers. In late March this year, an international research team made a considerable breakthrough by sequencing the genomes of multiple sets of Beethoven’s hair that have been preserved to this day. This not only subverted many previous speculations about the cause of Beethoven’s death, but also unearthed evidence that Beethoven’s ancestors suspected of having extramarital affairs.
  The paper, published in the journal Current Biology, said Beethoven had a strong genetic predisposition to liver disease — he contracted hepatitis B a few months before his death, which may have contributed to his important cause of death.
  In addition, the team combined the genetic comparison of the existing members of the Beethoven family and found that within the 7th generation of Beethoven’s ancestors, there were cases where the male heir was not of his own blood. This also means that Beethoven probably shouldn’t be named “Beethoven” at all.
  Robert Attenborough, a human biologist at the University of Cambridge, said that researchers and admirers of Beethoven will find a lot to think about and discuss from these discoveries. Extraordinary.

Portrait of music master Beethoven
The Painful Life of a Music Giant

  When mentioning Beethoven, the image of a warrior fighting against fate may come to people’s minds before his identity as a musician. In the surviving portraits, Beethoven’s expression is always angry and serious.
  In 1770, Beethoven was born in a musical family in Bonn, Germany. His father and grandfather were both court musicians, and Beethoven also inherited extremely high musical talent from them. But the childhood of a genius is often not happy, and Beethoven did not escape this law.

  Shortly before his death, Beethoven was also infected with hepatitis B virus, which was almost synonymous with terminal illness at the time.

  At the age of 4, Beethoven was forcibly dragged to the piano by his father. Except for eating and sleeping, he is basically practicing. If he makes a slight mistake, the slightest waiting for him is verbal humiliation, and the most serious is physical punishment.
  Fortunately, his father’s punishment and beatings did not make Beethoven lose his interest in music. He soon showed musical talent far beyond his peers. Although Beethoven failed to fulfill his father’s wishes and become another musical prodigy on a par with Mozart, his popularity and influence in the future were no less than the latter.
  In the 1790s, Beethoven, who wandered alone in Vienna, gained a firm foothold in this music hall, and his masterpieces such as “Moonlight Sonata” that have been handed down to this day made him famous. But in 1797, Beethoven became more and more aware that there was a problem with his proud hearing, which made him very distressed.
  Pain may be an important driving force to promote the creation of genius. Beethoven, whose hearing was declining day by day, entered the vigorous period of creation instead, inspiring people’s hearts with heroic music one after another, and roaring to fate.
  Of course, heroes also have a vulnerable side, but they are usually unwilling to be humane. In 1802, Beethoven wrote in a letter to his brother, the Heiligenstadt Testament: “For six years I have been in such despair… how can I admit that one of my senses is out of order… …the senses in me were once highly perfect.”
  Beethoven stated in “The Will” that after his death, if his personal doctor Schmidt was still alive, he hoped that the other party would announce his illness so that future generations could know more about it. Good for medical research.
  In 1819, Beethoven completely lost his hearing. But the attack of the disease failed to overwhelm his unyielding pride, and fighting against the unfair fate became the main theme of his life since then. “Ninth Symphony” is the last symphony that Beethoven completed during his lifetime—even though he never heard his own creation, this does not affect the greatness of “Ninth Symphony”. The serious illness, his unyielding spirit of struggle has deeply inspired generations after generations.
  Eight years later, Beethoven died in pain, and Dr. Schmidt, who had died 18 years earlier, failed to disclose the music giant’s condition as he wished. The cause of Beethoven’s death has since become an unsolved case.

Drawing of Beethoven’s room, Vienna, March 1827
beethoven’s hair

  In 2014, a seed to deduce the cause of Beethoven’s death by means of scientific research was planted in the heart of Tristan Berg. Berg is a student majoring in biological anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and listening to Beethoven’s music is the best way to relieve stress during his long academic career. This time, he wants to use his professional strength to do something for the “idol”.
  With the help of his teacher Professor Attenborough and others, Berg successively contacted experts such as Toomas Kivisild, Ph.D. in archeology at Cambridge University, and Will Meredith, director of the Beethoven Research Center at San Jose State University. This completes the formation of the team.
  For historical researchers, extracting DNA from bones is the most routine and convenient method. But Beethoven left no remains or teeth, so the team turned to other human tissues that could provide Beethoven’s DNA, inadvertently debunking a lie that had been rumored for years.
  Back in the 1810s, Beethoven’s great achievements in music have amazed the world. Collecting anything Beethoven, even a lock of hair, is a unique way for avid fans to express their admiration or assert their status.
  These fans would not have imagined that the key to fulfilling Beethoven’s last wish and finally solving the mystery of Beethoven’s disease lies in these locks of hair a few years later.
  After several twists and turns, Berger’s team obtained 8 copies of Beethoven’s hair from private or museum collections. After testing, it was found that 5 of the 8 hairs were highly consistent; of the remaining 3 hairs, 2 belonged to two unrelated people, and 1 had insufficient extractable DNA.

  The music giant that the Beethoven family is most proud of may not be named Beethoven in terms of blood.

  On the one hand, from the perspective of DNA damage, these five identical hairs all came from the 19th century, and their lineage can be traced back to Central and Western Europe; There is less chance of counterfeiting. Therefore, after comparing and synthesizing the situation including historical documents and other genetic evidence, the team finally determined that the five strands of hair belonged to Beethoven.
  Of the 3 remaining hairs, 1 is named “Hiller” rather famously. The locket was placed in a locket, and the person who signed the “Paul Schiele” in the box claimed that the hair was cut from Beethoven’s body by his father, the famous composer Ferdinand Schiele , and later gave it to him as a birthday present.
  Many years ago, excessive levels of lead and other heavy metals were detected in this lock of hair. “Lead poisoning” has always been considered the cause of Beethoven’s death. The writer Russell Martin even wrote this statement into “Beethoven” hair” book.
  This guess seems reasonable: after all, Beethoven had a habit of drinking heavily and drank a large bottle of wine about one liter every day. At that time, not only unscrupulous vintners used lead sugar (lead acetate) to adjust the sweetness of wine , Wine glasses for wine are also leaded glass.
  But this study completely overturned the “lead poisoning” said. Because this lock of hair does not belong to Beethoven, but a Jewish woman living in Germany-the reason why the lead content of this woman’s hair exceeds the standard may be related to the excessive lead content in European cosmetics at that time.
Beethoven to change his surname?

  In the 19th century, people could only vaguely explain Beethoven’s illness and death by using “heaven is jealous of talents”, but in the 21st century today, this question can be given a more accurate answer from the aspect of genes.
  The article by Berger’s team highlights the influence of liver disease on Beethoven. The research team believes that there are mutations in Beethoven’s PNPLA3 and HFE genes, which are highly related to the susceptibility to liver cirrhosis. Therefore, Beethoven’s risk of liver disease was several times that of ordinary people, and his excessive intake of alcohol exacerbated his liver damage.
  Under the combined effects of alcohol and genetics, Beethoven’s liver deteriorated day by day. Shortly before his death, Beethoven was also infected with hepatitis B virus, which was almost synonymous with terminal illness at the time.
  The team said that liver disease was the most critical cause of Beethoven’s severe health problems in his later years, but existing research has not been able to confirm which disease or cause finally killed Beethoven.

A musical manuscript of Beethoven in the Moravian Museum

  This study did not give a clear answer, but could only rule out the possibility of death from celiac disease or lactose intolerance. As for hearing loss, which was Beethoven’s biggest concern, the genetic sequence offered no new answers.
  In addition to diseases, Berger’s team has made new discoveries. They collected the DNA of five male descendants of the same paternal line of the Beethoven family, and compared them with Beethoven. The results showed that there were great differences between the two sides—the Y chromosomes of the five people were obviously related, and the common ancestor was Alt Beethoven, who was born in 1535. Van Beethoven, but Beethoven’s chromosomes do not match 5 people.
  The Y chromosome is inherited from the paternal line, so in Europe where children follow the father’s surname, there should be no significant difference in the Y chromosome among men of the same family and the same surname. Such a result means that the music giant that the Beethoven family is most proud of may not be named Beethoven in terms of blood.
  The research team combined genetic and archival evidence to deduce that between 1572 and 1770, the Beethoven family had a wife and a third party who gave birth to a son. However, the current level of technology cannot determine which generation it is. This extramarital affair, which was unknown hundreds of years ago, was finally discovered with DNA technology.
  The team’s research shows that “revealing” the secrets of the Beethoven family is not its original intention, nor is it to satisfy the world’s desire for voyeurism. It just hopes that by disclosing the Beethoven genome to researchers from all over the world, it is hoped that one day, when the research method goes further, it will be possible to Resolve lingering questions about Beethoven’s health and family history.

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