In 1802, Ludwig van Beethoven asked his physician, JA Schmidt, to publicly describe his progressive hearing loss and gastrointestinal problems after his death as “as far as the world is at least reconciled to me”.
When, then, the cause of Beethoven’s death was a sacrament.
Now, more than two centuries later, a group of scientists has fulfilled his wish and, after analyzing the DNA of five of his -previously authenticated – hairs, they did not find an explanation for his deafness or a gastrointestinal problem, but they did. The famous composer had a genetic predisposition to liver disease.
Details of the research carried out by the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), the Beethoven Center San Jose and the American Beethoven Society, California (United States), the University of KU Leuven (Belgium), the University of Bonn, Beethoven-. Haus de Bonn and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany), published this Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.
“Our aim was to highlight Beethoven’s health problems, including progressive hearing loss, which began in the mid-late 20s and led to operational deafness in 1818,” explains Johannes Krause, from the Max Planck Institute.
In addition, the team also investigated the possible genetic origin of Beethoven’s chronic gastrointestinal complaints and severe liver disease (probably cirrhosis) which culminated in his death in 1827, at the age of 56.
DNA found no definitive answer to these questions, but genetic factors for liver disease and evidence of hepatitis B virus infection in the months before his death were aggravated by alcohol and genetic risk factors.
“We gather from Beethoven’s conversation books, which he used for the last decade of his life, the consumption of alcohol was very regular, although it is difficult to estimate the consumption of the books”, explains Tristan Begg, lead author of the study and researcher at Cambridge.
And since most sources indicate that their consumption was moderated by standards dating back to the early 19th century, it is likely that they reached levels of alcohol known to be harmful to the liver today.
As for hearing loss, DNA analysis has not clearly identified a genetic basis, although the researchers caution that the study is not sufficient to rule out this hypothesis.
The authors also found no genetic explanation for Beethoven’s stomach problems, but celiac disease and lactose intolerance are “highly unlikely.”
“We cannot say definitively what killed Beethoven, but now we can at least confirm the presence of significant hereditary risks and hepatitis B virus infection,” concludes Krause.
“Given the known medical history, it is highly likely that some combination of these three factors, including alcohol use, is acting in concert, but future research will be needed to clarify the extent to which each component is involved.” Regg.
In addition, Beethoven’s DNA held another surprise: his Y chromosome did not match that of any of his five modern-day relatives who share his last and common name, according to the genealogy records of their common father.
That is, in the generations on the part of Beethoven’s father, sometimes an extramarital “thing”, the study concludes.
“This finding suggests an extra-parental paternity event in the paternal line between the conception of Hendrik van Beethoven in Kampenhout (Belgium) around 1572 and the conception of Ludwig van Beethoven seven generations later, in 1770 in Bonn (Germany),” he concludes. reg.