Beethoven’s Hair – A Book Review

Beethoven’s Hair

Russell Martin

Broadway Books, New York

I’m not bragging that all I previously knew about Beethoven was that he was from Vienna, a musical genius and he was deaf. Now, I’m gratefully enlightened as to Beethoven’s life situation, yet Beethoven’s Hair is not simply his biography.


At the time of The Master’s death, a lock of his disarrayed hair was scissored by a young musician, Paul Hiller, who had visited him several times the prior week. Ensuring that Hiller’s treasure was protected in a locket under a jeweler’s seal, he kept it during the decades of his own musical prominence in Vienna before passing it on to his son. Martin recounts subsequent locket exchanges spanning two centuries, conjuring up personal stories of its keepers during World Wars I and II to present day America.


In Autumn of 1926, Denmark embraced the heroic feat of evacuating threatened Danish and immigrant Jews to safety in Sweden. The hurried circumstances forced the locket onto a new guardian. Two stateside Beethoven enthusiasts bought the locket at auction in 1995 and undertook enormous strides to unravel it’s history. They also sought the help of top scientists to test the hair to determine the cause of Beethoven’s deafness and extensive maladies. The locket is now permanently housed in an honoring museum at San Jose State, California.


The author weaves each owner’s story with Beethoven’s artistry and anguish, endearing them for their conscientious oversight of their beloved immortal’s lock.