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RECENTLY DISCOVERED BEETHOVEN MANUSCRIPT TO BE AUCTIONED  AT SOTHEBY'S

 

 

LONDON, 13 October 2005—The lost autograph manuscript of one of Ludwig van Beethoven's (1770-1827) most revolutionary works, Grosse Fuge in B flat major in his version for piano four-hands, Op. 134, is to be offered for sale at Sotheby's in London on Thursday, 1 December 2005. It is his working manuscript for the only piano version of a major work made by the composer and is one of Beethoven's few compositions for piano duet. This striking and forward-looking work, which contains new material, is at 80 pages, the longest and most important Beethoven manuscript to have appeared on the market in living memory. It is estimated to fetch £1/1.5 million ($1.7/2.6 million). The manuscript will be on public exhibition at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University today, Thursday, 13 October from 12:30 pm to 4 pm (6 East Lancaster Avenue, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania ); at Sotheby's in New York from 16 - 19 November and at Sotheby's in London from 28 November through 1 December 2005.

The remarkable discovery of the composer's autograph work was made in July this year in the former Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary - now renamed the Palmer Theological Seminary— in the suburbs of Philadelphia—by one of its employees, Heather Carbo. Ms. Carbo is the Circulation Supervisor in the Austen K. deBlois Library, and nearing the end of a huge inventory project of the missionary archives, she came across the 80-page manuscript in the very last cabinet she inspected in the basement of the library, where it had survived undisturbed in tranquil and safe surroundings until its discovery. Immediately sensing the importance of the manuscript, the Seminary contacted Dr Jeffrey Kallberg at the University of Pennsylvania, who identified the autograph manuscript as that of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge. In turn the University contacted Dr Roe—as they had done in 1990, when a cache of autographs were discovered in the safe of the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary— to value the manuscript and confirm its authorship.

The original version of Grosse Fuge was composed as the finale for the String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 130, which Beethoven began in May 1825 and completed in September that year. It has an extraordinarily modern sound and was notoriously difficult for performers and listeners alike when it was first played in 1826. In some doubt at this time as to the place of the movement in the string quartet and also of the instrumentation, Beethoven agreed to Matthias Artaria, the publisher, commissioning Anton Halm to compose a version for piano duet of this movement alone. Beethoven was dissatisfied with the arrangement and undertook the keyboard version himself. He laboured on this - the offered manuscript - in his last summer and submitted it to Artaria in August 1826. Doubts about placing the Grosse Fuge in the string quartet grew and at the instigation of his friend Holz, the composer was commissioned by Artaria to provide a replacement movement, which he wrote between September and November 1826.

Lost for more than a century and unavailable for study during the great era of Beethoven studies, this newly-discovered manuscript is an important new source completely unknown to twentieth-century and earlier Beethoven scholars. It is written in brown and black ink, sometimes over pencil and includes later annotations in pencil and red crayon, some added as proof corrections, on ten-stave paper - the staves frequently extended into the margins by the composer. Written on various paper-types the manuscript shows the extent of Beethoven's working and reworking and includes deletions, corrections, deep erasures (occasionally the paper is rubbed right through, leaving small holes), smudged alterations and several pages pasted over the original or affixed with sealing-wax. The passion and struggle of Beethoven's working can be seen graphically: the higher and more intense the music, the larger the notes. As Beethoven pushes the music higher than ever written before, the ledger lines are pushed exponentially towards the upper edge of the paper. It is also evident that Beethoven tried passages out on the piano, or perhaps the desktop. On page 23 of the manuscript, there is a passage of Beethoven's own fingering. It is touching to imagine the ailing and entirely deaf composer running over passages on the piano, music he could scarcely hear, but certainly feel in his fingers and probably also viscerally. 

The first mention of this manuscript's existence is in an auction in Vienna on 28 January 1839 (Franz Gräffer's 2. Auction at Artaria and Co), when it was sold for 15 florins. It has been suggested that Gräffer may have acquired it from the publisher Matthias Artaria, who died in 1835, as a gift or from his estate. Although that is possible, it is not certain that the manuscript passed through Artaria's hands, as it is not the manuscript used by the printer. In 1839, the autograph was purchased by Tobias Haslinger (1787-1842). He was a friend of Beethoven who helped draw up the Legal Inventory and Assessment of the composer's estate (16 August 1827) and was an enthusiastic purchaser at the auction of Beethoven's manuscripts, books and effects on 5 November 1827. (The autograph does not appear to have been offered for sale in that auction). The manuscript must have been bound either by Haslinger, or before it came into his possession. The attractive binding appears to be Austrian, dating from the 1830s. It cannot have lingered long in Haslinger's possession as he died in June 1842. Haslinger annotated the flyleaf Beethovens Handschrift Herrn Grafen von Alberti zur freundlichen Erinnerung an Tobias Haslinger, but it is unknown exactly when Haslinger presented the manuscript to Graf Alberti, who may have been Austrian or Italian. An Alberti presented the manuscript to a certain Madame Brisson in Milan on 27 February 1857 and at some stage it was in the possession of Luigi Arrigoni of Milan, whose late-nineteenth-century book-plate appears on the inside front-cover.

Whatever the path of ownership, it is known for certain that the manuscript appeared in two auctions in 1890 - the first in Paris, Drouot (5-7 May) and the second at Liepmannssohn, Berlin (13 October). William Howard Doane had acquired the Mozart autograph in 1889 and it seems highly likely that he bought the Beethoven from Liepmannsohn in the following year and that both manuscripts migrated to the United States then. The collection passed to his widow and then to their daughter Marguerite Treat Doane (who married George W. Doane and thus retained her family name). Until its rediscovery in July 2005 in Pennsylvania, the manuscript had effectively disappeared.

 



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