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Friday, May 17, 2024

Why Beethoven went deaf: Lead poisoning?

Beethoven in an 1819 portrait by Ferdinand Schimon. 

One of the most amazing achievements in the history of classical music is that Beethoven continued to compose great music after he went completely deaf. Given RAW's  interest in Beethoven, I thought I would share an update on the topic: The deafness may have been the result of lead poisoning, caused by drinking too much cheap wine.

Here is the article: "Locks of Beethoven’s Hair Offer New Clues to the Mystery of His Deafness," (as usual, I get you behind the paywall with a gift article.) The article concerns testing carried out on some of Beethoven's  hair:

"One of Beethoven’s locks had 258 micrograms of lead per gram of hair and the other had 380 micrograms. ... A normal level in hair is less than 4 micrograms of lead per gram."

Also: "David Eaton, a toxicologist and professor emeritus at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study, said that Beethoven’s gastrointestinal problems 'are completely consistent with lead poisoning.' As for Beethoven’s deafness, he added, high doses of lead affect the nervous system, and could have destroyed his hearing."

More at the link. The article is by Gina Kolata, who writes about medical topics for the Times. 

The Times is not perfect and it gets a lot of criticism. It has areas where I think it is weak. But it also continues to produce really good journalism and still has many really good reporters. The Internet has done a lot of damage to newspapers, but it also has made it possible for me to read the Times all the time; I used to only read it occasionally, when I was out of town and could buy a copy. 


Eric Wagner said...

Thank you for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, thanks a lot, veröffentlicht interesting.