Lead poisoning is the common answer. However, new analysis (found in the Beethoven Journal – which I never knew existed) sheds new light:
Christian Reiter has conducted months of painstaking work applying CSI-like methods to strands of Beethoven’s hair.
He says his analysis, published last week in the Beethoven Journal, found that in the final months of the composer’s life, lead concentrations in his body spiked every time he was treated by his doctor, Andreas Wawruch, for fluid inside the abdomen. Those lethal doses permeated Beethoven’s ailing liver, ultimately killing him, Reiter said.
“His death was due to the treatments by Dr. Wawruch,” said Reiter, head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Vienna’s Medical University. “Although you cannot blame Dr. Wawruch — how was he to know that Beethoven already had a serious liver ailment?”