Did Ben Franklin kill Beethoven and Mozart?


by Ivan Seeking
Tags: beethoven, franklin, kill, mozart
Ivan Seeking
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Aug21-05, 06:20 AM
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Others might not be as dismissive of the onus of the ill-fated instrument, which was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. Over the course of its history, it has been associated with witchcraft, insanity and a mysterious disappearance, and has been postulated as the cause of death of both Beethoven and Mozart.

...But by the early 1800s, playing an armonica became tantamount to having a death wish. Many of its practitioners either died or went insane. When a baby suffered a fatal epileptic seizure at an armonica concert in 1830, it marked the end of public performances.

...German-born Gerhard Finkenbeiner - researched the associations and solved the mystery. The armonica's bowls were originally made using leaded crystal; those who played it probably absorbed high levels of lead through their fingertips and into their bloodstreams. [continued]
http://www.abqtrib.com/albq/nw_local...862998,00.html
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Ivan Seeking
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Aug21-05, 05:56 PM
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btw, the title is intended to be a little tongue'n cheek, but the very notion that this could even be remotely possible seemed too incredible to pass. In any event it is an interesting story.
Math Is Hard
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Aug21-05, 06:28 PM
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What a peculiar story. It seems that Franz Mesmer was also a fan of the armonica and used this in his unusual treatment of patients.
http://www.glassarmonica.com/armonica/mesmer/index.html

The glass armonica was a vital ingredient in Mesmer’s ‘magnetic seances’: his patients, mostly ‘hysterical bourgeois women’, were placed in a magnetic tub filled with glass powder and iron filings, and massaged into a relaxed state by the sweet, distant tones of a glass armonica played behind curtains covered with astrological symbols. Then Mesmer himself, clad in a long purple robe, would enter and touch each patient with a white wand, sending them into a magnetic trance from which they awakened fully cured.

champ2823
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Aug21-05, 07:23 PM
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Did Ben Franklin kill Beethoven and Mozart?


I think it does have some credence and could have been an influence in there deaths. Of course, how it could be proven is another story and highly unlikely. In today's terms, it's kinda like Benzene which is in some prescription drugs which the WHO states has no safe levels of consumption. Fluoride is another example which has been put in water supplies in trace elements and used in toothpastes. Being highly toxic and with no health benefits resulting from any studies done, Aluminum companies had to find a way to get rid of all the waste and it was used as Rat poison until these companies lobbied to get rid of it by putting it in the water supply and then in toothpaste since some study showed that kids ages 9-12 gained little benefit in fighting plaque, even though every other age group showed significant worsening due to the sodium fluoride.
zoobyshoe
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Aug22-05, 02:47 AM
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The Glass Harmonica definitely got a reputation for causing nerve damage, but the place I first read this (I'm trying to remember which book) attributed it to the vibration of the fingers that touched the rotating glass. IIRC the "damage" mentioned was loss of sensation in those fingers.

I'm not sure it's physically possible to absorb enough lead from lead crystal through the skin to hurt someone. I've been under the impression lead had to be ingested to cause harm: people are warned not to eat from lead-glazed pottery, but not warned against touching it.

The people who got nerve damage from the Glass Harmonica were the professional players. I very much doubt Mozart and Beethoven fooled around with it long enough to be a risk, whatever the actual agent of damage is.
arildno
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Aug22-05, 04:13 AM
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As for Beethoven, he most probably died from lead poisoning.
But as I've heard it, it was because Ludwig was inordinately fond of fish, and there are strong reasons to believe that the fish had a lot of lead in them (from industrial waste of some sort, don't ask me what)
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Aug22-05, 09:01 AM
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Lead crystal has been used in the making of glasses and carafes for a long time and I have never heard of people poisoned from drinking from a lead crystal glass liquid that was primarily contained in a lead crystal carafe.
On the other way, lead was used in white and yellow painting and arsenic in green painting.
One theory attributes Napoleon's death to arsenic poisoning from the green wallpaper in his house at St Helena.
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Aug22-05, 11:29 AM
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Quote Quote by arildno
As for Beethoven, he most probably died from lead poisoning.
This is the first I've heard of this. What are you basing this on?
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Aug22-05, 11:32 AM
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Quote Quote by zoobyshoe
This is the first I've heard of this. What are you basing this on?
I heard it on a Norwegian radio program sent over a year ago.
It was sort of a popular lecture, I think, by some doctor i can't remember the name of. he might have been wrong, though.

here's a CNN link from 2000:
http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/...eethoven.hair/
zoobyshoe
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Aug22-05, 11:55 AM
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Quote Quote by SGT
Lead crystal has been used in the making of glasses and carafes for a long time and I have never heard of people poisoned from drinking from a lead crystal glass liquid that was primarily contained in a lead crystal carafe.
I did some googling, and lead crystal is, in fact, named as a possible household source of lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning
Address:http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/b...g?OpenDocument

I don't know what to make of this because it doesn't seem possible that you could leach enough lead out of it to do much harm. Eating a paint chip full of lead oxide, on the other hand, would give you quite a large direct "dose."

The mystery could easily be solved, I suppose, by storing some liquid in lead crystal, and then determining its lead content.

The glass harmonica has to be played with a wet finger. To the extent any of the players occasionally wet their fingers in their mouth while practising or fooling around on the instrument, they could have ingested lead directly.
zoobyshoe
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Aug22-05, 12:37 PM
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Quote Quote by arildno
I heard it on a Norwegian radio program sent over a year ago.
It was sort of a popular lecture, I think, by some doctor i can't remember the name of. he might have been wrong, though.

here's a CNN link from 2000:
http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/...eethoven.hair/
I know about that lock of hair and know it was kept in a kind of special glass frame. 100 times the normal amout of lead? I wonder if anyone checked to see if the glass of the frame was lead crystal, or if there were any source of lead in the frame where it was encased for decades?

Beethoven had alot of things wrong with him. In addition to the chronic abdominal pain and "indigestion", he developed gout and "weak eyesight".

His actual death was complex. Staying in bed most of the time, (presumably due to the gout), he became feverish. He asked his nephew to get a doctor but the nephew went off to play billiards instead, and the doctor didn't show up till three days later. He diagnosed B. with pneumonia.

Recovering from that, he nevertheless had more intense "liver and intestinal" pains, and his feet became swollen. At this point he was "operated on". That's all the book says, and there is no telling what the doctor might have done to him unless I find a more detailed source. That was Dec. 1826.

He lingered till March 24, 1827, asked for last rites, and dozed off, only to be awaken briefly during a violent thunderstorm. "Beethoven raised his arm and stretched out his hand to the sky. Then fell back motionless."

That's all culled from The Life & Times of Beethoven, Gino Pugnetti, Curtiss Publishing Co. 1967.
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Aug22-05, 03:02 PM
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Quote Quote by zoobyshoe
I did some googling, and lead crystal is, in fact, named as a possible household source of lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning
Address:http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/b...g?OpenDocument

I don't know what to make of this because it doesn't seem possible that you could leach enough lead out of it to do much harm. Eating a paint chip full of lead oxide, on the other hand, would give you quite a large direct "dose."
I don´t know if it is true with lead, but if a painting containing copper arsenide (Scheele´s green) is applied to a wallpaper and because of humidity, the wallpaper becomes moldy, the mold gets rid of the arsenic in a gaseous mixture of arsine, dimethyl and trimethyl arsine. If you breath this vapour you can get very sick and even die, if the exposition is long enough.
Ivan Seeking
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Aug23-05, 01:59 AM
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...Composers were also struck by the haunting sounds produced by Franklin's instrument. Mozart wrote two pieces for the armonica, including "Adagio and Rondo 617," and in 1815, Beethoven wrote a short melodrama where a narrator told a story while accompanied by armonica. [continued]
http://www.pbs.org/benfranklin/l3_inquiring_glass.html

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zoobyshoe
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Aug23-05, 12:11 PM
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"Some of the people who performed regularly on the armonica complained that the instrument was upsetting them emotionally. They said that the vibrations were entering their fingertips and causing mental anguish."

Indeed, lead poisoning aside, if you play around with sounding a wine glass by rubbing your finger around the rim, it starts to get too intense pretty quickly, both for the finger and to your ears.

Franklin, himself, though, apparently played his armonica frequently, we learn from this link, and doesn't seem to have had an adverse reaction.
Math Is Hard
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Aug23-05, 01:50 PM
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I just listened to that clip and found the sound of the instrument screechy and annoying. There's something about the pitch that makes me cringe.
hypatia
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Aug23-05, 02:28 PM
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Lead was everywhere back then, from the pewter they ate off, to the power they did there hair with. I would imagine anyone other then the poor{who ate off wood trenchers} would have a very high lead count.
zoobyshoe
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Aug24-05, 01:37 PM
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Quote Quote by Math Is Hard
I just listened to that clip and found the sound of the instrument screechy and annoying. There's something about the pitch that makes me cringe.
How is the intonation? (It won't play for me.) It seems to me it would be just about impossible to cast a series of bowls all in perfect tune, and I'm not sure how they would tune them after the fact, except by making them slightly oversized and abrading them down to the proper pitch. Be an awful lot of work.
hypnagogue
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Aug24-05, 02:23 PM
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The sound clip didn't work for me either. You can download an mp3 of "Adagio in C for Glass Armonica" by Mozart here.


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