Ludwig van Beethoven baptised 17 December 1770 to 26 March 1827 was a German composer and pianist. He was a crucial figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music, and remains one of the most acclaimed and influential composers of all time. His hearing began to deteriorate in the late 1790s, yet he continued to compose, conduct, and perform, even after becoming completely deaf. Between 1798 and 1802 Beethoven finally tackled what he considered the pinnacles of composition: the string quartet and the symphony. Around 1796, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He suffered a severe form of tinnitus, a “ringing” in his ears that made it hard for him to perceive and appreciate music; he also avoided conversation. The cause of Beethoven’s deafness is unknown, but it has variously been attributed to syphilis, lead poisoning, typhus, auto-immune disorder (such as systemic lupus erythematosus), and even his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake. Between 1815 and 1817 Beethoven’s output dropped again. Part of this Beethoven attributed to a lengthy illness (he called it an “inflammatory fever”) that afflicted him for more than a year, starting in October 1816. He died on 26 March 1827, during a thunderstorm. An autopsy revealed significant liver damage, which may have been due to heavy alcohol consumption.
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