Beethoven manuscript fetches a fortune
By book-lovers’ standards, the document was slightly foxed. Its binding was defective, its paper stained and holed by the “vigorous erasing’’ of the artist. In one of the most sacred passages, he had scrawled a vituperative insult.
Yet the final 500-page manuscript of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony had no trouble in selling for £2.13 million at Sotheby’s in London last month.
n a rare moment for an auction room, one of the sublime works of the human species came under the hammer. It passed from the hands of an anonymous private foundation into those of an anonymous private buyer. It is unlikely to be on view in public again for generations.
But the sale gave a glimpse of what Sotheby’s head of manuscripts, Stephen Roe, called “an incomparable manuscript of an incomparable work,one of the highest achievements of man, ranking with Hamlet, King Lear and the St Matthew Passion”. He added: “It isn’t likely there will be another complete Beethoven manuscript up for sale ever again’‘. The Ninth Symphony‘s setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy was sung as an anthem of the human spirit by students in Tiananmen Square, and at the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was used in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and is the official European Union anthem.
The manuscript is the final version made before the symphony’s ecstatically received first performance in Vienna in 1824. It contains unpublished musical passages which Beethoven cut, plus thousands of handwritten alterations of tempo to the work of two copyists who had worked from an earlier draft. In the margin of one passage of the Ode to Joy, Beethoven scribbled to acopyist “du verfluchter Kerl!” (“You damned fool!”).
The sale price is a record for a Beethoven manuscript. The foundation which sold it plans a charitable foundation for musicians. The auction record for a music manuscript is £2.5million, paid in 1987 for a collection of nine Mozart symphonies. — Â