Po or old Beethoven. He had it all: chronic stomach upsets, headaches, almost permanent diarrhoea, and then there was the deafness. No wonder he suffered frequent mood swings, with some even diagnosing those as yet another symptom of an incipient malaise. His autopsy yielded a torrent of nasties: “Beethoven’s liver, shrunk to half the size of a healthy one, was leathery and covered with nodules; the spleen was black and tough and twice its normal size; the pancreas too was unusually large and hard; and each of the pale kidneys contained numerous calcified stones.” Yuk…

Over the centuries since he died – his protracted deathbed agonies are yet another litany of woes – there have been many who have theorised on the causes of his numerous ailments and ultimate end. Indeed, for many years there was an unconfirmed rumour of syphilis, until finally in the year 2000 it looked like the case was solved. How? Enter Ferdinand Hiller.

Born in 1811 to a wealthy Jewish family in Frankfurt am Main, Hiller was one of history’s great nonentities. Not that his music was bad, it’s just what you might call painfully routine. Some of the piano...

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