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Stephen Husarik
Beethoven and the Baths: The Struggle for Personal Survival

Ludwig van Beethoven received many therapies before he wrote a suicide letter to his brothers from the spa-suburb of Heiligenstadt, Austria. Although terribly depressed about his hearing loss and nearly giving in to his depressive thoughts, the composer decided to continue the fight against his hearing disability with medical treatments at therapeutic facilities throughout Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia.  Beethoven tried everything from electro-shock stimulation and blood-letting, to bitter medicines and bathing. A practitioner of the Hygiene movement, Beethoven and his doctors thought that immersion in certain types of waters could cure his disease. Ironically, the final so-called cure given to him on his deathbed was to place Beethoven in a covered tub containing hot water and birch leaves as a kind of portable sauna. This presentation will explain the types of baths available to Beethoven in Vienna, who visited them and what treatments were considered standard medical practice at the time. It will also explain how the class system may have hampered Beethoven’s visits to some of the smaller establishments.