Genomic analyses of hair from Ludwig van Beethoven

Citations of this article
Mendeley users who have this article in their library.

This article is free to access.


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) remains among the most influential and popular classical music composers. Health problems significantly impacted his career as a composer and pianist, including progressive hearing loss, recurring gastrointestinal complaints, and liver disease. In 1802, Beethoven requested that following his death, his disease be described and made public. Medical biographers have since proposed numerous hypotheses, including many substantially heritable conditions. Here we attempt a genomic analysis of Beethoven in order to elucidate potential underlying genetic and infectious causes of his illnesses. We incorporated improvements in ancient DNA methods into existing protocols for ancient hair samples, enabling the sequencing of high-coverage genomes from small quantities of historical hair. We analyzed eight independently sourced locks of hair attributed to Beethoven, five of which originated from a single European male. We deemed these matching samples to be almost certainly authentic and sequenced Beethoven's genome to 24-fold genomic coverage. Although we could not identify a genetic explanation for Beethoven's hearing disorder or gastrointestinal problems, we found that Beethoven had a genetic predisposition for liver disease. Metagenomic analyses revealed furthermore that Beethoven had a hepatitis B infection during at least the months prior to his death. Together with the genetic predisposition and his broadly accepted alcohol consumption, these present plausible explanations for Beethoven's severe liver disease, which culminated in his death. Unexpectedly, an analysis of Y chromosomes sequenced from five living members of the Van Beethoven patrilineage revealed the occurrence of an extra-pair paternity event in Ludwig van Beethoven's patrilineal ancestry.




Begg, T. J. A., Schmidt, A., Kocher, A., Larmuseau, M. H. D., Runfeldt, G., Maier, P. A., … Krause, J. (2023). Genomic analyses of hair from Ludwig van Beethoven. Current Biology, 33(8), 1431-1447.e22.

Register to see more suggestions

Mendeley helps you to discover research relevant for your work.

Already have an account?

Save time finding and organizing research with Mendeley

Sign up for free