Unique Beethoven manuscript sold for nearly $2 mln
By Jeremy Lovell
LONDON (Reuters) – A unique manuscript by Ludwig van
Beethoven that was lost for more than a century was sold at
auction on Thursday for 1.13 million pounds to an anonymous
The final price was at the low end of the pre-sale
estimates of up to 1.5 million pounds.
“It is not a record, but it is an excellent price,” said a
spokeswoman for Sotheby’s, noting that the record price for a
Beethoven manuscript, of 2.13 million pounds, was set by the
composer’s Ninth Symphony in May 2003.
Discovered in July at the bottom of a dusty filing cabinet
at a religious school in Philadelphia, the manuscript sold on
Thursday is a work in progress for the Grosse Fuge in B flat
major — one of Beethoven’s most revolutionary works.
Not only is the 80-page document a working manuscript for
the only piano version of a major work by Beethoven, it is one
of his few compositions for a piano duet.
Sotheby’s said it was the most important Beethoven
manuscript to have come to market in living memory and would
prompt a complete reassessment of the German composer’s works.
It is the second time very rare musical documents have been
found by chance at the former Eastern Baptist Theological
Seminary — now renamed the Palmer Theological Seminary. A
Mozart manuscript was discovered there in 1990.
Beethoven, who continued to work as he went slowly deaf,
wrote the work in 1826 — one year before his death — as the
finale for his String Quartet in B flat major.
The piece is notoriously difficult to perform and, because
it was musically far ahead of its time, did not immediately sit
well with audiences either.
The manuscript is written in brown and black ink and
includes annotations in pencil and red crayon.
Music scholars have welcomed it as breath of fresh air,
clearly illustrating the working methods and thought processes
of a musical genius.
The document contains multiple deletions and corrections
and has places where the paper is rubbed through as Beethoven
continuously tried and rejected different variations.
Because it is so obviously a working document, it is not
easy to read and has no printer’s marks. Sotheby’s said it was
clear this was not the finished version and as such would give
deep insight when compared with the published work.
The manuscript was last at auction in 1890 — first in
Paris in May of that year and then again in Berlin in October,
from where it is believed it was taken to the United States and
lost to view until July this year.