Beethoven’s Hair

Just read this intriguing book by Russell Martin (ISBN 0-7679-0350-1). Back in the days before cameras it was customary, when someone died, to clip a lock of their hair as a memento. In this case 15-year-old composer Ferdinand Hiller snipped some of Beethoven’s hair. It was passed down in the Hiller family for over a century, surprisingly ending up at San Jose State University. Since young Hiller had enthusiastically pulled Beethoven’s hair when cutting it, DNA studies could be done on the follicles. It turns out that Beethoven’s lead content was 42 times the normal amount, accounting for his deafness and other maladies. Amazingly he persisted through his veil of silence to give us masterpieces like his 9th Symphony with the “Ode to Joy”.

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