Beethoven died in 1827 at age 56.
Listen to the NPR interview with Bill Walsh who headed the team that studied Beethoven's hair and skull samples.
How was the composer exposed to lead?
The lead exposure occurred over many years. The reason could have been Beethoven's love for wine which at that time was sweetened with lead-containing substances. His favorite wine goblet was also made of a lead based metal.
Another hypothesis is that Beethoven was slowly poisoned by Danube fish. One of his favorite dishes was the fish caught in a heavily polluted stretch of the river contaminated with lead.
How did the scientist get the samples?
The hair samples were from a lock of Beethoven's hair purchased by a collector several years ago.
The skull pieces belong to a California businessman who inherited them from his great-great uncle, who was a doctor in Austria.
What were the symptoms of lead poisoning?
Beethoven started to develop health problems in his twenties which grew worse over time. His chronic abdominal pain, irritability and depression, for example, were likely due to lead poisoning.
Beethoven saw physician after physician in search of a cure for illnesses. Nobody was able to help him. Ironically, in a letter to his brothers, he expressed the wish that after his death, "scientists would use his remains to find out the cause of his illness so that others would not have to suffer as he did".
"Lead poisoning made Beethoven grumpy", summarizes Chicago-Sun Times profoundly.
Lead confirmed in Beethoven's death - USA Today
Study conlcudes Beethoven died from lead poisoning - amhersttimes.com
Plumbosis: The Cause of Beethoven's Illness -MedGadget
Investigating Beethoven's death - PBS
Beethoven Lead Poisoned by Danube Fish - lead.org.au
Lead poisoning seen as probable cause of Beethoven illnesses - CNN
Beethoven Suffered from Lead Poisoning - NPR
Ludwig van Beethoven - Wikipedia
Image source: Wikipedia
Checking Santa's Toys For Lead: Parents concerned about lead in their children's toys can buy a home testing kit. NPR, 12/2008.
Beethoven May Not Have Died of Lead Poisoning, After All. NYTimes, 2010.