How Did Beethoven Become Deaf?
There are various theories circulating today regarding Beethoven’s health and hearing loss. It has been suggested that Beethoven was suffering from Syphilis (now discredited) or that he was poisoned. I have listed the presently accepted causes of his ailments and death, though tests are being carried out on his hair and should prove the matter conclusively.
Further test results on the Guavera lock of Beethoven’s hair have been published – I quote ‘The second test was a trace metals analysis conducted by Dr. William Walsh at the HRI & Pfeiffer Research Center in Naperville, Illinois. This test will reveal the presence of any trace heavy metals. The following results of this test were announced by Dr. Walsh on Tuesday, October 17th 2000:
High lead concentrations in Beethoven’s hair were found in independent analyses by McCrone Research Institute & Argonne National Laboratory. This is evidence that Beethoven had plumbism (lead poisoning) which may have caused his life-long illnesses, impacted his personality, and possibly contributed to his death. Distinctive trace-metal patterns associated with genius, irritability, glucose disorders, and malabsorption were not present in the Beethoven samples tested by McCrone Research Institute. Very low (undetectable) mercury levels were reported independently by McCrone Research Institute and Argonne National Laboratory. These results provide no evidence that Beethoven received medical treatment for syphilis, usually treated in the 1820’s with mercury compounds. This supports the consensus of Beethoven scholars who believe that Beethoven never had syphilis. Rumors that Beethoven suffered from syphilis have been discounted in all serious musicological literature for the last thirty years.’
For those seeking further information, check out the new book, ‘Beethoven’s hair’ by Russell Martin (New York, Broadway Book 2000)
The cause of Beethoven’s deafness is generally thought to have been Otosclerosis – the abnormal growth of bone of the inner ear. This bone prevents structures within the ear from working properly and causes hearing loss. Otosclerosis is a disease, which results in new bone formation either in the area of the stapes bone or in the cochlea housing the hearing nerve; or it can be a combination of both. When the bony deposits infiltrate the stapes bone, this bone is unable to vibrate and pass the sound into the inner ear. This results in what is called a conductive hearing loss, i.e., the sound is not being properly “conducted” into the inner ear. As a general rule, the thicker the bony deposit the greater the hearing loss, and the longer the hearing loss, the greater is the amount of deposits. The fixation of the stapes usually follows a slow and relentless course with progressively worsening hearing.
1796/8: First signs of deafness
1801: Complains of buzzing in ears in letter to Wegeler; Amenda
1802: “Heiligenstadt testament” – Beethoven writes of his despair at worsening hearing
1814: Further deterioration sets in. Last public appearence as pianist
1816-18: Use of ear trumpets
1818-27: Conversation books. (Conversation had to be written)
1823: Almost totally deaf (left ear not as bad as right) (MAJOR) ILLNESS -(minor intestinal problems throughout life)
1804: (spring) Serious illness, slow convalescence
1813: Serious intestinal
1824-5: Intestinal. Recovery in July
1826-7: Final Illness; Chirohsis/dropsy. (5 operations to drain fluid)
Ear Trumpets and spectacles belonging to Beethoven. Beethoven-Haus, Bonn