A manuscript found in cellar gathering dust is expected to fetch at least £1.5 million in Sotheby’s landmark sale.
Last July, a librarian at a theological seminary just outside Philadelphia made an astonishing discovery: tucked away in a basement cabinet and hidden under a layer of dust was a manuscript by none other than Ludwig van Beethoven. On December 1, this priceless artefact goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s and, at 80 pages, is the most significant Beethoven manuscript ever to appear on the market.
The autograph score is a piano duet version of Grosse Fuge, one of the composer’s most revolutionary works written in 1825 as the finale to his String Quartet, Op.130. A year later, Beethoven’s publisher commissioned Anton Halm to compose a version for piano duet but, dissatisfied with the results, Beethoven undertook the task himself.
The resulting manuscript is littered with deletions, corrections and deep erasures (in some cases leaving small holes), revealing the struggle and frustration of a great musical genius hindered by his now-total deafness. It is a testimony to triumph over adversity and its discovery will, says Stephen Roe, head of Sotheby’s manuscript department, “allow a complete reassessment of this extraordinary music.”