United States: The death of Ludwig van Beethoven from liver and kidney disease remains a mystery that puzzles scientists to this day. 

Historians previously speculated that high lead levels from antimony consumption led to the composer’s demise. Nevertheless, the prevalent assumption seems to contradict the result of a new study published in the Clinical Chemistry journal. 

More about the study 

According to the recent research conducted while using samples of authentic Beethoven’s preserved hair represented that the musician did not have high enough lead levels, sufficient enough to cause his death. 

Latest Hair Analysis Disputes Beethoven's Lead Poisoning Theory. Credit | AP
Latest Hair Analysis Disputes Beethoven’s Lead Poisoning Theory. Credit | AP

The lead researcher, Nader Rifai, a pathology professor at Harvard Medical School, said, “We believe this is an important piece of a complex puzzle and will enable historians, physicians, and scientists to better understand the medical history of the great composer,” as US News reported. 

Further investigation by experts 

Beethoven suffered from numerous illnesses throughout his life, including gastrointestinal troubles, hearing problems, and diseases of the liver and kidneys. Despite these ailments, the high lead levels in his system might have contributed to his famous traits, such as outbursts, forgetfulness, and clumsiness. 

In the 2000s, researchers first proposed lead poisoning as a probable cause of his death, citing extremely high lead levels found in his hair samples. However, recent research using authentic locks of hair from late in his life reveals lead levels 64 to 95 times higher than normal, respectively. 

More about the recent research 

In 2023, Rifai and colleagues analyzed two authentic locks of hair, the Bermann and Halm-Thayer locks, taken late in Beethoven’s life. The Bermann Lock showed lead levels 64 times the normal limit, and the Halm-Thayer Lock had a concentration 95 times greater than normal. 

While these levels would not have been fatal, they could have caused irreparable brain damage, impacting his quality of life. Although lead exposure may not have directly caused Beethoven’s death, it likely worsened his chronic ailments. 

Rifai said, “While the concentrations determined are not supportive of the notion that lead exposure caused Beethoven’s death, it may have contributed to the documented ailments that plagued him most of his life,” as US News reported. 


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