- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005


A California businessman says that skull fragments that belonged to his great-great-uncle in 19th-century Europe likely came from German composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

Paul Kaufmann made the announcement at the Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University, which helped coordinate forensic testing aimed at authenticating the fragments and determining what killed Beethoven at age 56.

The center already has a lock of the composer’s hair, which showed that he suffered from lead poisoning among other ailments when he died in 1827. One of Mr. Kaufmann’s fragments, submitted for testing at the Argonne National Laboratory, showed similarly high levels of lead, Mr. Kaufmann said last week.

Mr. Kaufmann, 68, said he found out only in 1986 during a visit with an aging relative in France that some of Beethoven’s reputed remains had been passed down through his family for generations. He inherited them in 1990.

The skull fragments — two large pieces and 11 smaller ones — were contained in a pear-shaped metal box etched with the name “Beethoven” on top. Mr. Kaufmann started working with the Center for Beethoven Studies after a writer working on a book about the composer tracked him down in Danville.

The largest two skull fragments are on permanent loan to the center. Director William Meredith called the discovery a major event both for classical music lovers and scientists.

DNA tests on the hair and bone samples that could determine definitively that the fragments belonged to Beethoven are under way at the University of Munster in Germany, Mr. Meredith said.

If the bones are authenticated, they could help establish what killed the composer or at least rule out various theories.

The bones made their way into Mr. Kaufmann’s family in 1863, when Beethoven’s body was exhumed, studied and reburied. Mr. Kaufmann’s great-great-uncle, an Austrian doctor named Romeo Seligmann, is said to have acquired them while making models of the skull, Mr. Meredith said.

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