Julia Solans 12:23pm, March 24, 2023

196 years after Ludwig van Beethoven's death, scientists are still trying to understand the exact causes of his death. Thanks to five strands of hair that match those of the composer, the truth begins to appear. His hereditary risks related to liver disease as well as his heavy alcohol consumption would be the main factors.

Ludwig van Beethoven, genius of his time, died on March 26, 1827 at the age of 56. Weakened during the last months of his life, the composer had contracted several diseases. But regarding the exact cause of his death, scientists have never put a name to it. Thanks to genetic research, the University of Cambridge was able to analyze the DNA of the German to finally unravel the mystery around his death... 196 years after his death!

The liver, the main responsible for its end

The researchers collected five strands of hair genetically identical to Beethoven's, which come from "a single individual corresponding to the composer's documented ancestry." They eventually discovered that the composer of "Symphony No. 5" had big genetic risks around liver disease. Tristan Begg, lead author of the study published in the journal Current Biology, said that the German's heavy alcohol consumption could be the cause of his complications, including hepatitis B.

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According to the results of the analyses, Beethoven's death could have been caused by three factors: a significant hereditary risk, infection with the hepatitis B virus and heavy alcohol consumption. Further research, notably conducted by the University of Cambridge, is planned to try to clarify the role of each factor.

Scientists have sequenced Ludwig van Beethoven's genome from locks of his hair, revealing clues to the great composer's health and his family history.

The study's lead author, Tristan Begg from @UCamArchaeology@ClareHall_Cam, explains how they did it and what they discovered

— Cambridge University (@Cambridge_Uni) March 22, 2023

The mystery surrounding his deafness

Suffering from deafness at the age of 27, to finally become deaf at the age of 48, Ludwig van Beethoven nevertheless continued to exercise his talent for the benefit of classical music. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have tried to understand how this disability was born, to no avail. Nevertheless, they do not exclude the possibility of genetic dysfunction.

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Technology may make it possible to answer them later. "The baseline data, which is mandatory for interpreting individual genomes, is steadily improving. It is therefore possible that Beethoven's genome will reveal clues in the future," concluded Axel Schmidt, a researcher at Bonn University Hospital.