Beethoven’s ‘skull fragments’ returned to Vienna


Skull fragments believed to be from Ludwig von Beethoven have been returned to Vienna, where the legendary 19th-century German composer is buried, experts said Thursday.

The American businessman Paul Kaufmann donated the fragments, which he inherited, to the Medical University of Vienna where researchers will investigate the illnesses the composer suffered from and also try to determine the cause of his death.

“This is where the bones belong, back in Vienna,” Kaufmann told reporters.

Austrian coroner Christian Reiter said the 10 fragments, including two larger pieces, one from the back of the head and one from the right side of the forehead, were of “great value”. “We received some really valuable material here, and we hope to continue research over the next few years. This was also Beethoven’s wish,” said Reiter.

The composer struggled with illness throughout his life and specifically asked that his body be studied, Reiter added.

Beethoven, whose piano, chamber music and symphonic works are considered among the greatest of Western classical music, died in 1827 aged 56 after years of battling unknown ailments, including increasing deafness in his later years.

The fragments are said to be the only remaining fragments of Beethoven’s skull, according to Reiter.

Kaufmann – whose Jewish ancestors fled the Nazis – said he came across the fragments in 1990 in a small box with the name “Beethoven” on it. It was kept in the family’s safety deposit box at a French bank.

A relative of Kaufmann, the Austrian doctor Franz Romeo Seligmann, allegedly obtained it in 1863 when Beethoven’s body was exhumed.

Kaufmann said the fragments will now be further analyzed to confirm they belong to the late composer, who died in Vienna.

Cause of his death still a mystery

According to available evidence, the fragments are the real Jacob.

A group of American scientists announced in 2005 that tests on Beethoven’s hair and the skull fragments showed that he died of lead poisoning, which may also have been the reason for his hearing loss.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois said the bone fragments, tested at the nation’s most powerful X-ray facility, contained high concentrations of lead that were consistent with earlier findings of lead in his hair.

The source of the lead is unknown, but they said it may have come from a wine cup made with the metal.

Alternatively, some medical treatment in the 18th and 19th centuries used lead and mercury.

Beethoven experienced abdominal pain in his 20s that became progressively worse, and the composer consulted a large number of doctors in search of a cure.

Researchers, who sequenced Beethoven’s genome using authentic hair samples, said in March that liver failure, or cirrhosis, was the likely cause of his death. This was caused by a number of factors, including alcohol consumption.