Ludwig van Beethoven, in an 1870 lithograph based on an 1819 portrait by Ferdinand Schimon.

“It was March 1827 and Ludwig van Beethoven was dying,” writes Gina Kolata in Wednesday’s (3/22) New York Times. “Grieving friends and acquaintances came to visit. And some asked a favor: Could they clip a lock of his hair for remembrance? The parade of mourners continued after Beethoven’s death at age 56, even after doctors performed a gruesome craniotomy, looking at the folds in Beethoven’s brain and removing his ear bones in a vain attempt to understand why the revered composer lost his hearing. Within three days of Beethoven’s death, not a single strand of hair was left on his head. Ever since, a cottage industry has aimed to understand Beethoven’s illnesses and the cause of his death. Now, an analysis of strands of his hair has upended long held beliefs about his health. The report provides an explanation for his debilitating ailments and even his death, while also raising new questions about his genealogical origins and hinting at a dark family secret. The paper, by an international group of researchers, was published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.”