Alcohol and the death of Ludwig van Beethoven: comparison of general biographies to the medical literature

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Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift




Beethoven’s autopsy findings of cirrhosis may have been due to alcoholism. This condition may have been underemphasized historically, given its stigma and the incongruence with the often heroic portrayal of Beethoven. We therefore aimed to compare how medical experts and biographers writing for a non-medical audience describe his final illness in the context of alcoholism. English-language biographies were identified using a survey of biographies of Beethoven and supplemented by the authors. English-language medical publications were identified by searching for “Beethoven” in the PubMed® MEDLINE database. We included studies that mentioned Beethoven’s final illness and death. We recorded statements regarding alcohol consumption, alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, and the role of alcohol in Beethoven’s death. The most commonly cited final illness was liver disease. Alcohol use was more frequently mentioned in biographies, but alcoholism less so. Alcohol use was invoked as a possible cause of final illness more frequently by medical publications.


Alcoholism, Cause of death, Final illness, Medical literature, Muscial biographies


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