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Radio Shows | Beethoven's Death | mp3wmawav

Those are perhaps 8 of the most recognized notes in music, written by Ludwig Van Beethoven.

The music giant lived until he was 56 when he died during a thunderstorm in 1827. What killed him?

Historians have long believed Beethoven was very sick in the years before his death, but no one knew the cause.

Two years ago, researchers at Argonne National Laboratory discovered high levels of lead in fragments of Beethoven's bones.

So where did all that lead come from and did it kill him? Some speculate he drank too much wine and in those days lead was added to sweeten wine and to stop its fermentation. Others believe the lead was in the water he drank at a health spa.

Since lead was used in everything from water pipes to hair tonics we may never know or will we?

The newest clues are CSI-like toxicology data by a Viennese forensic expert.

Christian Reiter suggests Beethoven, whose body was already loaded with lead, was routinely exposed to lead-based medical treatments by his doctor.

Beethoven suffered from edema, which is fluid accumulation in the abdomen. His doctor regularly punctured his abdomen to drain this fluid and then covered the wound with a lead based poultice to seal it and prevent infection.

According to Beethoven's and his doctor's diaries the dates of these treatments correspond with massive increases of lead in samples of Beethoven's hair.

Dr. Andreas Wawruch also used lead salts to treat Beethoven's pneumonia. He could not have known about Beethoven's lead poisoning or that he had liver cirrhosis.

The burden of repeated lead exposures to a man who already had high levels of it as well as a failing liver could have been enough to kill one of the greatest composers of all time.

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The Daily News Archive in Science Magazine summarizes the study by Christian Reiter of the Medical University of Vienna in Austria that revealed the lead levels in Beethoven's hair and linked those changes to the medical treatments he received.

The results of the Argonne National Lab analysis of Beethoven's Bone fragments revealing chronic high levels of lead are available:
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A book review in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) volume 297, No. 23 page 2643 directs the reader to an excellent and intriguing biography of Beethoven entitled "Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven" by Francois Martin Mai.
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