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Handel finds too much wine can lead to proble -

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Reporter: Jennifer Macey

TANYA NOLAN: There's a new theory being posed that lead poisoning may've been the reason for the
legendary temper of the Baroque composer Handel.

An American researcher has pieced together Handel's medical history for an exhibition marking the
250th anniversary of the composer's death.

The theory points to well documented evidence that lead was used to preserve wine in the 18th

And it suggests that Handel, who was quite fond of wine, may have been ingesting enough lead to
cause stomach pain, paralytic fits and even blindness.

Jennifer Macey compiled this report.

(Sounds of music)

JENNIFER MACEY: In May 1737 the London Evening Post reported that the composer George Frideric
Handel had been struck down by illness.

VOICE OVER: The ingenious Mr Handel is very much indisposed and it's thought with a paramedic
disorder, he having present no use of his right hand, which if he don't regain the public will be
deprived of his fine compositions.

JENNIFER MACEY: Handel battled ill health for another 20 years to compose some of his greatest
works of opera, oratorios and concertos

He was believed to have suffered paralysis in his hand, headaches, stomach pain and temporary
blindness - symptoms which may have contributed to his erratic behaviour and notoriously bad

Sarah Bardwell runs the museum in what was Handel's residence in London.

(Sound of music)

SARAH BARDWELL: There are stories of him attempting to throw women out of the window. He also
supposed to have shut the harpsichord on another tenner.

You know all sorts of interesting aggressive characteristics.

JENNIFER MACEY: Dr David Hunter from the University of Texas has come up with a theory that
Handel's physical symptoms were probably due to lead poisoning.

The theory is part of an exhibition at the Handel House Museum to mark the 250th anniversary of his

The museum's Sarah Bardwell says lead was commonly used as a preservative for wine.

SARAH BARDWELL: He had a big wine cellar where and he supposedly had 12 gallons of port and 12
gallons of French wine we assume.

He would put lead into the barrels in which they store the wine, partly to mask the flavour but
also it was meant to make it last for longer.

(Sound of music)

JENNIFER MACEY: One medical expert in Australia says Handel's symptoms are consistent with lead

Doctor Peter Baghurst heads the health research unit at the Women's and Children's Hospital in

PETER BAGHURST: At those sorts of levels you start to experience creaky a aguish sort of symptoms
like tummy pains.

But of course if the dose goes too high then actually it starts to cause leaking of the blood
vessels in the brain, and that can lead on to really horrendously acute systems such as loss of
consciousness and fitting vaultions and deaths even.

JENNIFER MACEY: Dr Baghurst says many people in the 18th century suffered from high exposure to

PETER BAGHURST: And it was common in these days for lead to be used in some wine and particularly
cider in the western parts of England side of production.

Also people weren't aware there of the dangers of actually preparing items for human consumption in
lead vessels as well.

JENNIFER MACEY: Handel aficionado Sandra Bowdler is the director of Festival Baroque at the
University of Western Australia

She's a tad sceptical.

SANDRA BOWDLER: Certainly obviously a towering musical genius. Nobody has any doubt about that.

He certainly suffered some illnesses late in life but he was well into has 60s then and life
expectancy at birth in the 18th century was round about 38.

So he was actually living till a very ripe old age for the period and he didn't die until he was 74
- which is extraordinarily old for the period.

JENNIFER MACEY: No locks of Handel's hair have survived for chemical analysis as he shaved his head
and his body would have to be exhumed for further tests to be carried out on his bones.

But tests on the hair and skull fragments of Handel's contemporary, Ludwig von Beethoven, found
that he too suffered from lead poisoning.

(Sound of music)

TANYA NOLAN: There's a taste of one of Handle's many compositions. That one is The Arrival of the
Queen of Sheba.