Book club to comb through Beethoven's hair at New Kensington campus

William A. Woodard Jr.
January 13, 2016

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. — A history discussion on Beethoven’s ill health through the scrutiny of a pilfered lock of his wavy shoulder-length hair will be the topic of a community gathering at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, at Penn State New Kensington.

“One Book, One Community,” will brush up on the history of Beethoven’s tresses, which reveal the reason the famed composer was finished before his Symphony No. 10 was. The colloquium’s banter will focus on the book, “Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved,” by national bestselling author Russell Martin. A group reading will take place in the campus’ Elizabeth S. Blissell Library. A discussion will follow the reading. Copies of the book will be available to borrow in the library.

The tale follows the conspicuous odyssey of a snippet from Ludwig von Beethoven’s coiffed pate that was shorn on his death bed in 1827. From Vienna, Austria, the plundered ringlet made it to a Beethoven-wannabe composer’s family in Cologne, Germany, to an Oskar Schindler-like doctor in Nazi-occupied Denmark, to Sotheby's in London, to the Center for Beethoven Studies in San Jose, California. Pieces of the pilfered mane finally made a cameo at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Naperville, Illinois, where the wayfaring strands were tested and found to contain 100 times the normal amount of lead. 

Prior to the book, “Beethoven’s Hair” was a 2005 award-winning Canadian TV movie. It garnered four Gemini awards, which is Canada’s version of an Emmy. 

Participants in the book session also will be eligible to attend a concert by the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra for the special price of $10. The WSO will perform “Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 19, at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

Sponsored by the Westmoreland Library Network, the event is a part of a series of discussions of the book from November to March at 16 member libraries. The network is a system of public libraries in Westmoreland county that provides free library service to county residents.

For more information, contact Pat Hollinger at 724-334-6053 or

About Blissell Library

Because of the Penn State's status as a state-related institution and its strong public service commitment, the resources of Blissell Library are available for free to the public. The resources include all online databases, borrowing privileges, collaborative workstation and a quiet study lounge.

The collaborative workstation allows multiple participants to work on a document or project by viewing large computer screens. The area is equipped with a conference table and six chairs. Up to six laptops or iPads can connect into the hub in the center of the table. The monitors can display two of the laptop screens simultaneously, so the group can work as a team. On the lower level of the library is the study lounge. Located next to the Computer Center, the lounge provides individual study space.

Blissell also is a government depository library, which means that it makes selected government documents accessible to residents of Pennsylvania. Blissell is only the second library in the county to serve in this capacity, and the only Penn State campus library other than University Park to be so designated. The community can take advantage of the library's resources after requesting a Penn State library card.

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For more about Blissell Library, visit

  • Beethoven

    A purloined lock of Beethoven's hair made its way to contemporary times, and that lock is the subject of a book discussion at the New Kensington campus. 

    IMAGE: Wikipedia
Last Updated January 13, 2016