Beethov's Study in his Apartment
 in the Schwarzspanierhaus


To the “zwei Meter” [two metres] of books that, according to the Beethovenhaus in Bonn  [Source: cited on January 20, 2005] have been written on the topic of Beethoven's illnesses, can, due to the initiatives of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies in San Jose, California, be added the results of the scientific research conducted on Beethoven's hair and skull fragments, by the scientific team of Dr. William Walsh. 

The results of the research on Beethoven's hair were also reported in the book Beethoven’s Hair by Russell Martin, in which the history of the hair lock of Beethoven that was acquired by  Ira F. Brilliant and  Dr. Alfredo “Che” Guevara in a Sotheby auction, and of the research on a few strands of that hair donated for that purpose by Dr. Guevara, are described in a very understandable way.  

As is reported in the 2005 edition of the Beethoven Journal [published and edited by the  Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies], it was also Russell Martin who traced the whereabouts of Beethoven's skull fragments in the United States that, in the 1980's, were examined by Hans Bankl and Hans Jesserer in Austria.  (The result of their research found expression in their book that was published in 1987, Die Krankheiten Ludwig van Beethovens). 

As has become known in the meantime, the Californian owners of Beethoven's skull fragments provided them to the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies and the scientific team of Dr. Walsh for research.  The public learned of the result of this research in a brief newspaper article that was published at the beginning of December, 2005.   According to these results, it was confirmed that Beethoven suffered from chronic lead poisoning, which might also have contributed to his death. 

In the meantime, a short, one-hour TV version Beethoven’s Hair has been produced to re-iterate the results of the previously conducted scientific research on Beethoven's hair, as well as the history of the hair lock.  In this presentation, Dr. Walsh, among other statements, also provides room for the possibility that Beethoven might already have been inflicted with lead poisoning in his late Bonn years, around 1790, when he might have been drinking lead-containing water from thermal springs. 

This statement is the point of departure of our subsequent look at this topic.  However, in order to provide you with a general overview of the topic, we also want to offer you access to the following information:   

Access to Official Information

The 2005 issue of the Beethoven Journal  of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies almost exclusively dedicates itself to this topic.  On the web site of the Ira Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies in San Jose, California, those who do not have access to this musical periodical, can read the article by William Meredith from the Beethoven Journal, “The History of Beethoven’s Skull Fragments” and can look at a selection of photographs.  This web site also offers a fact sheet on the topic, further photographs of the fragments, as well as “Mitochondrial DNA results from the testing of the hair and preliminary results from the testing of the bone.”  The link through which all of this can be accessed is: 

Those who want to read up on the results of the scientific research of Beethoven's hair can do so at the website of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies by clicking on the following link: 

A statement by Dr. William Walsh, Ph.D., the director of the research project, can be accessed via the following link of this website:  [These internet sources were last examined by us on January 20, 2006].  

Other Internet Reports on the Topic 

Of course, we would also like to offer you other internet reports on this topic.

ABC News in Science:
quotes Dr. Walsh as follows:
"He had begun suffering from abdominal pains at 20 that worsened throughout his life, and the composer saw a large number of physicians in search of a cure.
The description of his symptoms and the results of an autopsy shortly after his death are also consistent with lead poisoning, Walsh says"." [Cited on: Jan. 22, 2006].

The Argonne National Laboratory:
also quotes Dr. Walsh:
“The finding of elevated lead in Beethoven's skull, along with DNA results indicating authenticity of the bone/hair relics, provides solid evidence that Beethoven suffered from a toxic overload of lead,” Walsh said. “In addition, the presence of lead in the skull suggests that his exposure to lead was not a recent event, but may have been present for many years.”
"The half life of lead in the human body is about 22 years, with 95 percent of “old” lead residing in the skeletal structure. Beethoven experienced a change of personality and abdominal illness in his late teens and early 20s that persisted throughout his adult life. His abdominal symptoms and autopsy findings are both consistent with lead poisoning, Walsh said"." [Cited on: Jan. 22, 2006].

also quotes Dr. Walsh:
"The finding of elevated lead in Beethoven's skull, along with DNA results indicating authenticity of the bone/hair relics, provides solid evidence that Beethoven suffered from a toxic overload of lead," Walsh said. "In addition, the presence of lead in the skull suggests that his exposure to lead was not a recent event, but may have been present for many years." "The half life of lead in the human body is about 22 years, with 95 percent of "old" lead residing in the skeletal structure. Beethoven experienced a change of personality and abdominal illness in his late teens and early 20s that persisted throughout his adult life. His abdominal symptoms and autopsy findings are both consistent with lead poisoning, Walsh said." [Cited on: Jan. 22, 2006].

Online NewsHour - A News Hour with Jim Lehrer Transcript:
features an interview of Dr. Walsh with Jeffrey Brown. Here an excerpt from it:
"JEFFREY BROWN: So what does this add to our knowledge of Beethoven, of the life that he led and the way that he died?
WILLIAM WALSH: Well, I believe that this solves the medical mystery. Beethoven was a fairly normal teenager. He was a very well-known prodigy and they thought perhaps the greatest pianist in all of Europe by the time he was 19.
However, something terrible happened to him physically between the ages of 20 and 24. He became extraordinarily ill. And he had tremendous abdominal pain and misery. He went to many doctors and basically suffered with that condition through the rest of his life.
It was so serious and so severe that by the time he was 29, he wrote a letter to his brother indicating that he had contemplated suicide and that he eventually had decided to -- that he believed that God had created him for this great music and that he was going to endure this terrible suffering and produce good music.
JEFFREY BROWN: We don't know still how he would have gotten lead poisoning. Are there some leading theories?
WILLIAM WALSH: Yes, there are some leading theories. The one thing we do know is that the very clear symptoms of lead poisoning started before the age of 24.
So Beethoven historians -- now that we've got this information that he was truly lead poisoned decisively -- they're now starting to study what's known about his life then, trying to find out what the source is. . . . " [Cited on:  Jan. 22, 2006].

Xagena Medicine's
quote of Dr. Walsh is as follows:
"The finding of elevated lead in Beethoven's skull, along with DNA results indicating authenticity of the bone/hair relics, provides solid evidence that Beethoven suffered from a toxic overload of lead," Walsh said. " In addition, the presence of lead in the skull suggests that his exposure to lead was not a recent event, but may have been present for many years."
"The half life of lead in the human body is about 22 years, with 95 percent of "old" lead residing in the skeletal structure.
Beethoven experienced a change of personality and abdominal illness in his late teens and early 20s that persisted throughout his adult life. His abdominal symptoms and autopsy findings are both consistent with lead poisoning, Walsh said"." [Cited on: Jan. 22, 2006].

Those of you who want to find out more about lead poisoning might want to follow these links that we have investigated last on January 22, 2006:


Mayo Clinic

An Overview:

Signs and Symptoms:

Medicine Plus

BC Health Guide

Yahoo Health

EMedicine (A longer essay)

Those who want to know more about the metal lead in general can follow these links that we have also last investigated on Jan. 22, 2006:



Back to the Point of Departure of this Overview

Those who have seen the TV presentation of "Beethoven's Hair" might recall the comment by Dr. Walsh who expressed the opinion that Beethoven might already have become afflicted with lead poisoning at the age of 19 or 20 when he might have been drinking lead-containing water at thermal spas. 

Dr. Walsh's comments of this "biographic" nature are made by him as an informed lay person, just as some of us might be informed lay persons with respect to biographical Beethoven data.   Therefore, it is not illogical if we, as lay persons, might wish to try here to collect information on this topic, so that we can broaden our own base of knowledge with respect to it.  

In this context, it can, of course, not be our task to try to scientifically examine and present this topic.  Rather, as lay people with occupational and life experience in the area of German-speaking culture, particularly with respect to biographical Beethoven information, as it is available to us in biographical works of a generally understandable nature, we can try to, on the one hand, search these sources for information on this topic and, on the other hand, to also find relevant information on the internet.

The most Important Character Traits of Beethoven as a Youth and as a Young Adult During his Last Bonn Years, Before his Move to Vienna in November, 1792

Perhaps, we should first try to determine what character traits of the young Beethoven we can find in biographical literature.  In this attempt, we should not go back further than to the years 1784-1792. 

Those who have read Thayer might remember Beethoven's behavior in the circle of the von Breuning family.  With respect to this, Thayer-Forbes reports:  

“ . . . to which, as upon other occasions when reasoning with him was of no avail, the good lady would shrug her shoulders with the remark: “He has his raptus again,” an expression which the rapt Beethoven never forgot.  Most happy was it for him that in Madame von Breuning he had a friend who understood his character thoroughly, who cherished affection for him, who could and did so effectually act as peace-maker when the harmony between him and her children was disturbed. . . . “ [Thayer-Forbes: 108 – 109].

Helene von Breuning's grandson, Gerhard von Breuning, son of Stephan von Breuning, reports in his “Erinnerungen aus dem Schwarzspanierhause”:

“However, the dark thread that the Fates had woven into Beethoven’s life had already begun to appear intermittently.  His young friends, so sensitive and so sympathetic, were deeply moved, my father told me, by young Ludwig’s sorrows and actions when his father, all too fond of wine, was disorderly on the street at night and got into trouble with the police.  With a child’s love and devotion (dedicated mainly to his long-suffering mother, is is true) he got between his father and the night watch, in a conflicting mixture of childlike love and civic duty.  In those cases he would defend his father desperately to keep him from the disgrace of going to jail, even though that made him guilty of resisting the police patrol.  His friends would then intervene to smooth matters over, to console, to protect, using the influence of their respected families, and this must have made a lasting impression, a life-long one.  Beethoven never forgot what they had meant to him, in what a spirit they had helped him at fateful moments in his life” [von Breuning: 29].

Beethoven's behavior might remind us of that of his own mother: 

“Wenn Fischers oft wegen übertriebenen Zulaufes oder großer Unruhe durch die Kinder der Familie Vorstellungen wegen der Hausordnung machten, wurde Madam Beethoven gleich »jähhitzig und gegensprüchig«; war das aber vorüber, dann kamen Herr und Frau van Beethoven gleich zu Fischers, gestanden den Fehler ein, taten Abbitte, und man war beiderseits befriedigt.” [Thayer-Deiters-Riemann, Bd. 1, p. 452; here, Thayer-Deiters-Riemann relies on the so-called Fischer manuscript of reminiscences of the Fischer family.  Here a translation of this passage into English:  "Often, when the Fischers tried to reason with the Beethoven family due to their having an inordinate amount of visitors or other disturbances on account of their children, Madame Beethoven would immediately >>fly into a rage and become contradictory<<; however, once the matter had blown over, Herr and Frau van Beethoven would come to see the Fischers, admit to their mistakes and apologize, and both parties were satisfied, again].

With respect to Beethoven's 1789 petition to the Elector, Maynard Solomon reports:

“The turning point in this poignant entanglement occurred in late 1789, when Beethoven addressed a petition to the elector asking that half his father’s salary be paid to him, and evidently requesting that his father be retired from service and perhaps exiled from Bonn as well.  Beethoven’s petition has disappeared, but the answering decree of November 20, 1789, survives:

“His electoral Highness having graciously granted the prayer of the petitioner and dispenses henceforth wholly with the services of his father, who is to withdraw to a village in the electorate, it is graciously commanded that he be paid in accordance with his wish only 100 rthr. [Rheinthalers] of the annual salary which he has had heretofore, beginning with the approaching new year, and that the other 100 thlr. [thalers] be paid to the supplicating son, besides the salary which he now draws and the three measures of grain for the support of his brothers.” [Solomon: 30].

Let us also take a look at Beethoven's petition to the Elector after the death of his father:



   A few years ago Your Electoral Excellency was pleased to retire my father, the court tenor van Beethoven, and by a most gracious decree to allow me out of his salary 100 Reichsthalers so as to enable me to have my two younger brothers clothed, fed, and educated and also to discharge the debts which our father had incurred. . . .

   After his death, which took place in December of last year, I wanted to avail myself of your most precious favor by presenting the aforementioned most gracious decree.  I was horrified, however, to find that he had suppressed it.

   Hence with the most dutiful reverence I beg Your Excellency graciously to renew this decree and also to instruct Your Excellency's Landrentmeisterei to send me the previous quarterly amount which fell due at the beginning of February.

                                                                  Your Electoral Excellency's 

                                                                  most humble and most faithfully obedient     

                                                                   LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, Court Organist“ [Solomon: 31].

With respect to this, Solomon comments,  “It is a measure of his devotion to his father [and of his inner strength] that Beethoven granted Johann’s plea that he be permitted to retain a fragment of personal dignity” [Solomon: 31].

With respect to Beethoven's fall 1791 journey to Mergentheim, Thayer-Forbes reports:

“Once in Mergentheim the merry monarch and his jolly subjects had other things to think of and seem to have made a noise in the world in more senses than one.  At all events Carl Ludwig Junker, Chaplain at Kirchberg, the residence of Prince Hohenlohe, heard of them and then went over to hear them.  Junker was a dilettante composer and the author of some half-dozen small works upon music--musical almanacs published anonymously, and the like, all now forgotten save by collectors, as are his pianoforte concertos--but at that time he was a man of no small mark in the musical world of Western Germany.  He came over to Mergentheim, was treated with great attention by the Elector's musicians, and showed his gratitude in a long letter to Bossler's Musikal. Correspndenz (Speyer, November 23, 1791), in which superlatives somewhat abound, but which is an exquisite piece of gossip and gives the liveliest picture that exists of the "Kapelle."  . . .

"I heard also one of the greatest of pianists--the dear, good Beethoven, some compositions by whom appeared  in the Speier Blumenlese in 1783, written in his eleventh year.  True, he did not perform in public, probably the instrument here was not to his mind.  It is one of Spath's make, and at Bonn he plays upon one by Stein.  But, what was infinitely preferable to me, I heard him extemporize in private; yes, I was even invited to propose a theme for him to vary.  The greatness of this amiable, light-hearted man, as a virtuoso, may in my opinion be safely estimated from his almost inexhaustible wealth of ideas, the altogether characteristic style of expression in his playing, and the great execution which he displays.  I know, therefore, no one thing which he lacks, that conduces to the greatness of an artist. . . . Even the members of this remarkable orchestra are, without exception, his admirers, and all ears when he plays.  Yet he is exceedingly modest and free from all pretension.  . . . 

"Had I acceded to the pressing entreaties of my friend Bethofen, to which Herr Winneberger added his own, and remained another day in Mergentheim, I have no doubt he would have played to me hours; and the day, thus spent in the society of these two great artists, would have been transformed into a day of the highest bliss."" [Thayer-Forbes: 104-105].

Thayer-Forbes also relates this recollection by Simrock:

“ . . . Thus, as the elder Simrock related, upon the journey to Mergentheim recorded in the earlier pages of this work, it happened at some place where the company dined, that some of the young men prompted the waiting-girl to play off her charms upon Beethoven.  He received her advances and familiarities with repellent coldness; and as she, encouraged by the others, still persevered, he lost his patience, and put an end to her importunities by a smart box on the ear” [Thayer: 245].

We can conclude our look at Beethoven's character traits of this period by observing that already the character of the young Beethoven showed the great variety:  withdrawal, stubbornness, a passionate loyalty towards his family that he might have inherited from his mother, modesty and friendliness as an artist and also--at least in public--a certain reservation towards women.  At least from these observations we can not determine that these character traits were expressed in form of extreme mood swings.  

Illnesses Beethoven might have had during his Childhood, Youth and Young Adult Years 

Information about Beethoven's possible illnesses during his Bonn years can also help us to round off our overall impression of our topic.  With respect to this, we again rely on texts of Beethoven literature and, in doing so, we do not want to entertain speculations but rather let the texts speak for themselves:

 “Ludwig habe als Kind einen Fehler gehabt, mit welchem er lange behaftet gewesen sei; seine Mutter habe sich darüber nicht äußern wollen, zuletzt aber habe sie Frau Fischer um Rat gefragt; diese habe ihr ein Mittel angegeben, welches auch geholfen habe” [TDR Bd. 1, p. 450;--

-- as is related in Thayer-Deiters-Riemann, Vol. 1, based on the Fischer manuscript, Beethoven is supposed to have had some health problem as a child that his mother did not want to talk about; however, she is reported as finally having asked Mme. Fischer for her advice, and the latter as having provided information about a remedy to her that worked].

 In his time table of Beethoven biographical data, Kropfinger lists under "Krankheiten" (p. 18, meaning illnesses) fever, shortness of breath and melancholy.  Most likely, Kropfinger took this information from Beethoven's letter of September 15, 1787 to Joseph Wilhelm von Schaden in Augsburg: 

 “ . . . so lange ich hier bin, habe ich noch wenige vergnügte stunden genoßen; die ganze Zeit hindurch bin ich mit der engbrüstigkeit behaftet gewesen, und ich muß fürchten, daß gar eine schwindsucht daraus entstehet; dazu kömmt noch melankolie, welche für mich ein fast eben so großes übel, als meine Krankheit selbst ist . . . “ [Source:  Ludwig van Beethoven Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 1, Letter No. 3, p. 5; " . . . as long as I have been [back] here, I have enjoyed few pleasant hours; the entire time, I have suffered from a shortness of breath, and I have to fear that it might even turn into consumption; to this is added melancholy that, for me, is almost an as great evil as my illness, itself. . . ."]. 

From the following comment by Thayer we learn that Beethoven arrived in Vienna with pock marks in his face: : 

“Like the multitude of studious youths and young men who came thither annually to find schools and teachers, this small, thin, dark-complexioned, pockmarked, dark-eyed, bewigged young musician of 22 years had quietly journeyed to the capital to pursue the study of his art with a small, thin, dark-complexioned, pockmarked, black-eyed and bewigged veteran composer" [Thayer-Forbes: 134].  

Possible Excursions of the Beethovens into the Bonn Environs 

In our search for information about Beethoven's possible contact with lead by drinking the waters of the thermal spas, it might also be useful to take a look at the excursions of the Beethovens and of Beethoven himself into the vicinity of Bonn:  

 “Fischer relates that during the Elector's absences, at which time the musicians were free, father Johann wan Beethoven would travel into the country with his son Ludwig and the young Rovantini at the invitation of various music-lovers. One of their trips, for instance, was to the region of Rheinbach.  One place that was visited during this trip was Flamersheim, where Baron Friedrich Wilhelm of Dalwigk, Chamberlain of the District of Utrecht, had his castle.  They passed through different localities in this region and came to Ahrweiler where they visited Burgomaster Schopp.   . . .  Regions on the right side of the Rhine were also visited; Hennef, Siegburg, Bensberg and Oberkassel were named.  . . . "  [Thayer-Forbes:  62-63].

“The uncle, Philipp von Breuning, may also have been influential in the intellectual progress of the young musician, for to him at Kerpen "the family von Breuning and their friends were annually for a vacation of five or six weeks.  There, too, Beethoven several times spent a few weeks right merrily, and was frequently urged to play the organ," as Wegeler tells us in the Notizen" [Thayer-Forbes: 93]. 

“Zu Ostern reisten wir wieder nach Bonn. Eine Stunde von dieser Residenz liegt ein Dorf, Godesberg, wo ein Gesundbrunnen befindlich ist. Der jetzige Churfürst hat diese von Natur reizende Gegend durch seine Anlagen zu einem Paradiese gemacht; und täglich sucht er den Aufenthalt daselbst interessanter zu machen. Er selbst hat sich ein kleines ländliches Haus bauen lassen, wo er gern ein paar Tage wöchentlich im Sommer wohnt” [Thyer-Deiters-Riemman, Vol. 1, p. 340-341; here it is reported that, an hour away from this residence [Bonn], there was a village by the name of Godesberg, which also had a health fountain and that the Elector had turned this area into a little paradise by creating a park-like environment into which he also built himself a cottage where he spent some days during summer]. 

“In the summer of the year 1790 or 1791 I was one day on business in Godesberger Brunnen [at the village of Godesberg with its health fountain].  After dinner Beethoven and another young man came up.  I related to him that the church at Marienforst (a cloister in the woods behind Godesberg) had been repaired and renovated, and that this was also true of the organ, which was either wholly new or at least greatly improved.  The company begged him to give them the pleasure of letting them hear him play on the instrument.  His great good nature led him to grant our wish.  The church was locked, but the prior was very obliging and had it unlocked for us.  B. now began to play variations on themes given him by the party in a manner that moved us profoundly; but what was more significant, poor laboring folk who were cleaning out the debris left by the work of repair, were so greatly affected by the music that they put down their implements and listened with amazement and obvious pleasure.  Sit ei terra levis!" [Thayer-Forbes: 100].    

Lead in the Rhineland of Beethoven's Times 

With respect to Beethoven's possibly having drunk water from the thermal spas in the Rhineland, we might, perhaps, also wish to take a look at information on the internet about locations in the Rhineland in which, during the 18th century, thermal spas existed or in which lead was mined. At this time, we could only find information in German which we will present here and then relate to you in English in our own description:

Lead Mining left of the Rhine: 

With respect to lead mining in this area, we found the following link:


“Die alten Erzbergwerke und der Bergbau bei Kirchdaun

Der Untertagebau, bei dem vor allem Eisenherz und Buntmetalle, wie Kupfer und Blei abgebaut wurden, konzentrierte sich bei Kirchdaun in der Zeit von etwa 1739 bis 1793 vor allem an den Plätzen Goldgrube, Scheid, das Arget und die Eisenschächte Urbers. Im Außenraum sind als sichtbare Charakteristika des Bergbaus noch heute Gesteinshalden, Schürfgruben und -gräben sowie Trichter von zerschütteten Schächten zu erkennen” [Source: above-noted link, cited on January 10, 2006; here, it is reported that lead mining took place in the area of Kirchdaun in the valley of the Ahr river, during the time of about 1739 to 1793].


The following internet source: 

describes Kirchdaun[with a population of 400] as part of the city or town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.  To this we can add that the old village Beul an der Ahr is also part of this city.  In this village, Helene von Breuning spent some time during the 19th century, with her married sister, before she moved to her son-in-law's [Franz Gerhard Wegeler's] house in Koblenz.  [Cited on January 10,  2006].

Lead right of the Rhine: 

In our texts on Beethoven's excursions into the Bonn environs we also found the place of "Hennef" at the right side of the Rhine, which should refer to today's Bad Honnef at the Drachenfels in the Siebengebirge.  The following internet link:

reports, among other things that:  “Im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert wurden Blei-, Zink- und Kupfererze gefördert” [here, it is reported that in the 18th and 19tn centuries, lead, zinc and copper were mined there; cited on January 10, 2006]. 

Much further southeast, at the Lahn river, thus somewhat upstream from the hometown of Beethoven's mother, Ehrenbreitstein, we find Bad Ems, to which we have found the following internet link:

According to the information offered at this site, Bad Ems was already a flourishing spa during the 18th century, but it was also the location of one of the most important lead and silver mines of the Rhineland [Cited on January 10, 2006].

First Biographically Recorded Indications of Beethoven's Stomach Colics 

After our look at Beethoven's possible contact with lead during his Bonn years and at internet information about lead in the Rhineland of his time, our chronological overview leads us towards his years in Vienna.  As Thayer reports:

“The annual concerts in the Burgtheater established by Gassmann for the benefit of the widows of the Tonkünstlergesellschaft were announced for the evenings of March 29 and 30. The vocal work selected for performance was an oratorio in two parts, Gioas, Ré di Giuda, byn Antonio Cartellieri; the instrumental, a Concerto for Pianoforte and Orchestra, composed and played by Ludwig van Beethoven.  Cartellieri was a young man of twenty-three years (born in Danzig, September 27, 1772) who, a year or two since, had come from Berlin to study operatic composition wit the then greatest living composer in that field, Salieri.  As the direction of these Widow and Orphan concerts was almost exclusively in the hands of Salieri, one is almost tempted to think that he may on this occasion have indulged a pardonable vanity in bringing forward two of his pupils, if we did not know how strong an attraction the name of Ludwig van Beethoven must have been for the public which, as yet, had had no opportunity to learn his great powers except by report.  The day of the performance drew near but the Concerto was not yet written out.  "Not until the afternoon of the second day before the concert did he write the rondo, and then while suffering from a pretty severe colic which frequently afflicted him.  I [Wegeler] relieved him with simple remedies so far as I could.  In the anteroom sat four copyists to whom he handed sheet after sheet as soon as it was finished. . . . " [Thayer-Forbes:  173-174p; bolding by this writer].    

Regarding Beethoven's Possible Infection in the years 1796 - 1797

 With respect to this, Thayer reports: 

 “Except this notice of his bearing and demeanor, there is a complete hiatus in Beethoven's history from his appearance in the Singakademie until the following November.  The so-called Fischoff manuscript has a story of a "dangerous illness," which was caused by his own imprudence this summer.  "In the year 1796, Beethoven, on a hot summer day, came greatly overheated to his home, threw open doors and windows, disrobed down to his trousers and cooled himself in a draft at the open window.  The consequence was a dangerous illness, which, on his convalescence, settled in his organs of hearing, and from this time on his deafness steadily increased." 

    A sickness of the gravity here described seems somewhat improbable in this year in view of the further travels which Beethoven made in the following autumn.  We reconsider this notice in connection with the summer of 1797." [Thayer-Forbes:  187-188].  

" . . . It is very possible that the illness mentioned by the Fischoff manuscript may have occurred during this summer[1797].  There can be little doubt that the original authority for the statement is Zmeskall, and therefore the fact of such an attack may be accepted as certain.  But the date, as well as the inference that in it lay the original cause of the composer's subsequent loss of hearing, must be left to conjecture" [Thayer-Forbes: 191-192].   

Beethoven's Character Traits During his First Vienna Years 

The best examples of Beethoven's behavior and character traits can be found in his own writings:

 On November 2, 1793, he wrote to his Bonn friend, Eleonore von Breuning: 

 “Most Estimable Leonore!

My most precious friend!

     Not until I have lived almost a year in the capital do you receive a letter from me, and yet you were most assuredly perpetually in my liveliest memory.  Often in thought I have conversed with you and your dear family, though not with that peace of mind which I could have desired.  It was then that the wretched quarrel hovered before me and my conduct presented itself as most despicable, but it was too late; oh what would I not give could I obliterate from my life those actions so degrading to myself and so contrary to my character.  True, there were many circumstances which tended to estrange us, and I suspect that tales whispered in our ears of remarks made one about the other were chiefly that which prevented us from coming to an understanding.  We both believed that we were speaking from conviction; whereas it was only in anger, and we were both deceived.  Your good and noble character my dear friend is sufficient assurance to me that you forgave me long ago, but we are told that the sincerest contrition consists in acknowledgement of our faults; and to do this has been my desire.--And now let us drop a curtain on this whole affair, only drawing from it this lesson, that when friends quarrel it is much better to have it out face to face than to turn to a go-between.  . . . " [Thayer-Forbes: 161-162].

In his letter to Eleonore of the summer of 1792 [Gesamtausgabe Vol. 1, Letter No. 4, p.9-10] Beethoven also discusses the loss of her friendship, which might allow us to wonder whether one and the same argument is referred to here that arose in the time before his lines to her of the summer of 1792. 

Beethoven's character trait of his great contrition also shines through in his lines to his friend  Franz Gerhard Wegeler from the Vienna period around 1795:

“Dearest and best one! 

    What a detestable image of my you have presented for myself!  Oh I acknowledge it, I do not deserve your friendship.  You are so noble, so considerate, and this is the first time that I am not allowed to be on an equal footing with you; I have fallen far below you.  A, for eight weeks I have displeased by best and noblest friend.  You think that I have lost some of my goodness of heart, but thank Heaven, no; it was not intentional or deliberate malice which induced me to act as I did towards you, it was my inexcusable thoughtlessness which did not permit me to see the matter in its true light.--Oh how ashamed I am, not only for your sake but also for my own--I scarcely dare to ask for your friendship any more--Ah Wegeler my only comfort lies in this, that you have known me almost from my childhood, and yet, oh let me say this for myself, I was always good, and always strove to be upright and true in my actions.  Otherwise how could you have loved me?  Could I have changed so fearfully for the worse in such a short time?--Impossible.  Could these feelings of goodness and love of righteousness have died forever in me in a moment?  No, dear, best Wegeler.  O venture again to throw yourself entirely into the arms of your B.--trust in the good qualities you used to find in him.  I will guarantee that the pure temple of sacred friendship which you erect shall remain firm forever, no accident, no storm shall ever shake its foundations--firm--eternal--our friendship--forgiveness--oblivion--a new revival of the dying, sinking friendship--Oh Wegeler, do not reject this hand of reconciliation, place yours in mine--Ah God.--But no more--I am coming to see you and shall throw myself in your arms and entreat you to restore to me my lost friend; and you will be reconciled to me, to your penitent, loving, never-forgetting

                                                                                        Beethoven again,

    It was only now that I received your letter, because I have just returned home" [Thayer-Forbes: 173]. 

In his dealings with his "Viennese" friends, Beethoven often converses in quite another tone, as, for example, in these lines to Christine Gerhardi: 

                                                              “[Wien, vor dem 20. August 1798][1]


    liebe Chr. Sie haben gestern etwas hören laßen wegen des Conterfeis on mir – ich wünschte, daß sie dabey doch etwas Behutsam verführen ich fürchte, wenn wir das Zurückschicken von <der> seite dr F. wählen, so mögte vieleicht der fatale B. oder der erzdumme Joseph sich hienein mischen, und dann mögte das Ding noch auf eine Chikane für mich gemünzt werden, und das wär wirklich fatal, ich müßte mich wider währen, und das verdient den doch die ganze populasse nicht, -- suchen sie das ding zu erwischen so gut als sich’s thun läßt, ich versichere sie, daß ich hernach alle Maler in der Zeitung bitten werde, mich nicht mehr ohne mein Bewußtseyn zu malen, dachte ich doch nicht, daß ich durch mein eignes Besicht noch in verlegenheit kommen könne.  Wegen der Sara wgen des Hut Abziehens, das ist gar zu dumm und zugleich zu unhöflich, als daß ich so etwas wägen könnte, erklären sie ihr doch die rechte des spazierenGehens, -- 

adie hol sie der Teufel. – “

                                                        "Vienna, before the 20th of August, 1798[1]

   dear Chr. yesterday, you mentioned something about my portrait--I would wish that you would be somewhat careful with respect to this, I am afraid that, when we chose to send it back through the F., perhaps, the fatal B. or the arch-stupid Joseph might get involved in it, and then the entire matter might be turned into a chicanery against me, and that would really be awkward, I would have to defend myself, again, and the entire matter does not deserve that.--try to obtain the thing as well as you can, I assure you that after this, I will ask all painters in the newspapers not to paint me without my knowledge, after all, I did not think that I would be embarrassed by my own face.  With respect to Sara and my taking my hat off, that is really too stupid and, at the same time, too impolite that I would have dared something like that, explain to her the rights of the wanderer.--

adieu the devil may take you.--" [Source:  GA vol. 1, Letter No. 34, p. 42; Original:  Bonn, Beethoven-Haus; to [1]:  according to the GA this refers to the tone of the letter, particularly to the mischieveous ending, which would indicate that Beethoven wrote the letter to her before Christine Gerhardi's wedding on August 20, 1798]. 

Of course, Beethoven's many notes to his friend Nikolaus Zmeskall are very famous, as, for example, these lines from 1798:   

    My dearest Baron Muckcart-driver,

    Je vous suis bien obligé pour votre faiblesse de vos yeux.--Moreover I forbid you henceforth to rob me of the good humor into which I occasionally fall, for yesterday your Zmeskall-Domanoveczian chatter made me melancholy.  The devil take you, I want none of your moral principles.  Power is the morality of men who loom above the others, and it is also mine; and if you begin again today I'll torment you until you agree that everything that I do is good and praiseworthy. [For I am coming to the Swan--The Ox would indeed be preferable, but this rests with your Zmeskallian Domanoveczian decision] [Response] Adieu Baron ba . . . . ron ron/nor /orn /rno /onr / [voila quelque chose from the old pawnshop] . . ." [Thayer: 221].

The only conclusion that we allow ourselves to make here is that Beethoven's letters to his Bonn friends show his ability to see his own errors and his ability to apologize for them, a trait which would remain with him.  

In conclusion, let us return to some remarks of Dr. Walsh:

“The finding of elevated lead in Beethoven's skull, along with DNA results indicating authenticity of the bone/hair relics, provides solid evidence that Beethoven suffered from a toxic overload of lead,” Walsh said. “In addition, the presence of lead in the skull suggests that his exposure to lead was not a recent event, but may have been present for many years.”
"The half life of lead in the human body is about 22 years, with 95 percent of “old” lead residing in the skeletal structure. Beethoven experienced a change of personality and abdominal illness in his late teens and early 20s that persisted throughout his adult life. His abdominal symptoms and autopsy findings are both consistent with lead poisoning"


"JEFFREY BROWN: We don't know still how he would have gotten lead poisoning. Are there some leading theories?
WILLIAM WALSH: Yes, there are some leading theories. The one thing we do know is that the very clear symptoms of lead poisoning started before the age of 24.
So Beethoven historians -- now that we've got this information that he was truly lead poisoned decisively -- they're now starting to study what's known about his life then, trying to find out what the source is. . . . "

If we consider these remarks carefully and also the fact that, from this time in Beethoven's life on, we have his own testimony in his famous letters of 1801 to Carl Friedrich Amenda and to Dr. Franz Gerhard Wegeler, and in his "Heiligenstadt Will" of 1802, with respect to his sufferings, we will realize that this area of concern in Beethoven's life would run through the remainder of it like a red thread that we, as lay people, can hardly disentangle, on our own.  However, we hope that the information presented to you here provides you with some initial "food for thought".


In additon to the above-noted internet sources, we relied on the following literature: 

Ludwig van Beethoven.  Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe. [6 Bände]  Im Auftrag des Beethoven-Hauses Bonn herausgegeben von Sieghard Brandenburg.  München: 1996, G. Henle Verlag.

Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven. New York: Schirmer Books, Paperback Edition 1979.

Thayer's Life of Beethoven, edited by Elliott Forbes. Princeton, New Jersey Princeton University Press, 1964.

Thayer, Alexander Wheelock: Ludwig van Beethovens Leben. Nach dem Original-Manuskript deutsch bearbeitet von Hermann Deiters, 5 Bände, Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1907 (Bd. 4), 1908 (Bd. 5), 1910 (Bd. 2), 1911 (Bd. 3), 1917 (3. Aufl., Bd. 1).

Corpyright 2006:  Ingrid Schwaegermann