Beethoven Was a White European, DNA Says, Putting to Bed Century of Speculation

UNSPECIFIED - DECEMBER 23: Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), German composer and pianist, composing the Missa Solemnis, 1819-1820. Painting by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858). Bonn, Beethoven-Haus (Beethoven'S Birthplace) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
DeAgostini/Getty Images

An in-depth genetic study of German orchestral composer Ludwig van Beethoven has dispelled longstanding myths and claims the composer has African roots, noting all of his ancestors originate in central Europe.

Beethoven, often cited as one of the most popular and influential classical composers, was the subject of a genetic study by dozens of researchers who examined and sequenced his genome from eight individual locks of hair of the composer saved by contemporary fans of the maestro and subsequently passed down the generations. The composer died in 1827.

In an article published by the peer-reviewed scientific journal Cell, the researchers discovered a number of facts regarding Beethoven’s life, including the fact that he had become infected with the hepatitis B virus

The ancestry of Beethoven has been debated by some, who have claimed that Beethoven was either African or black due to portraits of the artist appearing to show him with a dark complexion.

In 2020, the Centre of Fine Arts in Brussels caused a stir when they celebrated the 250th birthday of Beethoven with a portrait depicting him as a black man with dreadlocks created by American artist Terry Adkins.

“In the work, Adkins presents a portrait of the iconic composer that slowly morphs into that of a young black man with short dreadlocks and back again. The repeated transformation of the image conveys Adkins’s unwillingness to settle the debate on Beethoven’s race,” the Centre for Fine Arts stated in a post on social media.

The Guardian newspaper published an article on the theory that Beethoven was black that same year, claiming it originated with British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who was himself mixed race, in 1907 and became popular during the 1960s civil rights movement in the United States.

The Guardian did, however, admit that the evidence for Beethoven being black was “inconclusive,” and added that it was possible Beethoven’s ancestors from Flanders had married Spaniards of African descent.

According to the journal article on the DNA analysis of Beethoven’s hair published by Cell, none of those theories appear to be even remotely true, though. The evidence, according to the researchers, points to over 99 per cent of Beethoven’s ancestors being originally from Central and Northern Europe, with most originating in and around the area of Bonn, Germany, where he was born.

“We found strong geographic clustering of matches along the Rhine River and within present-day North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, largely consistent with the geographic distribution of the birthplaces of Beethoven’s German ancestors,” the article states.

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)



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