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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Did Dodgy Wine Cause Beethoven to Lose His Hearing?

Lead in the Moonlight Sonata composer's wine could have caused his deafness.

Ludwig van Beethoven is indisputably one of the most famous composers of all time. His immediately recognizable symphonies are made even more impressive in that he was all but completely deaf when he wrote many of them.

More recently, a rumor has been going around the internet that Beethoven’s deafness was caused by all the wine he imbibed, and a study suggests this could indeed be the case.

Following an analysis of hair and bone fragments, scientists determined that there were high levels of lead in Beethoven’s body at the time of his death in 1827. The German composer was known to drink a lot of wine throughout his life to ease his myriad health problems, and researchers from the University of Utah School of Medicine have suggested that it was the lead in this wine that caused his gradual hearing loss.

But wait! Don’t go pouring out your half drunk bottle of Rioja from last night just yet. In late 18th Century Vienna, lead was often added to cheap wines in order to make them more palatable (although how bad the wine must have been for people to consider adding lead to make it taste better does not bear thinking about).

Lead acetate – also called sugar of lead – has been added to wine since Roman times to sweeten it. This is, of course, now illegal, and modern winemaking techniques render its use obsolete anyway.

Beethoven’s hearing began to deteriorate seriously when he was in his late 20s, kicked off by a bout of severe tinnitus, a condition that causes a ringing in the ears. He lost his ability to hear high-pitched noises first, and at the time of his death (aged 57) he was almost completely deaf.

In fact, at the premiere of his Ninth Symphony in 1824, his hearing had deteriorated so much that he had to be turned around to appreciate the audience’s reaction following the performance.

While there is no concrete evidence to support this claim, excessive consumption of lead-tainted wine seems just as likely a conclusion for Beethoven’s deafness as previously mooted ideas: abnormal cochlear growth, auto-immune diseases, or that catch-all scapegoat for 19th Century maladies, syphilis.

Source: http://www.wine-searcher.com/