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Important Beethoven Manuscript Materializes

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Ludwig van Beethoven rather startlingly reared his stern visage in the 21st century when Heather Carbo — librarian at the Austen K. deBlois Library of Palmer Theological Seminary outside Philadelphia — found an 80-page working manuscript score for a duet-piano version of Beethoven’s monumental Grosse Fuge in B flat major when cleaning out an obscure archival cabinet one sultry afternoon in July.

“It was just sitting on that shelf,” Ms. Carbo told the NY Times. “I was just in a state of shock … I’d heard oral history about a Beethoven manuscript, so I recognized what I had found immediately,” she said. Carbo had been nearing the end of a huge inventory project when she came across the bound booklet in the very last cabinet she inspected in the basement of the library.

Dr. Jeffrey Kallberg at the University of Pennsylvania authenticated the manuscript, as did Dr. Stephen Roe, head of Sotheby’s Manuscript department, who said, “This is an amazing find. The manuscript was only known from a brief description in a catalog in 1890 and it has never before been seen or described by Beethoven scholars. Its rediscovery will allow a complete reassessment of this extraordinary music.” It will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s in London December 1, 2005, and is expected to bring up to $2.6 million.

Dr. Wallace Smith, president of Palmer Theological Seminary, said, “I was both thrilled and overjoyed when I heard about the rediscovery of this wonderful manuscript, a true original by an artist for the ages.” The Beethoven manuscript — as were original music manuscripts by Mozart, Haydn, Strauss, Meyerbeer and Spohr discovered at the Seminary in 1990 — was part of a collection presented to the Seminary in 1950 by Margaret Treat Doane, daughter of Cincinnati industrialist and hymn-writer William Howard Doane, who had likely purchased the Beethoven work at a Berlin auction in 1890.

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. The composer died in 1827.

The four-hand piano manuscript 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 types of paper, the manuscript shows, according to Sotheby’s Roe, 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 intensity of the composer can be seen graphically: the higher and more intense the music, the larger the notes.

It is also appears that Beethoven tried passages out on the piano himself. On page 23 of the manuscript, there is notation for Beethoven’s own fingering. Roe finds it “touching to imagine the ailing and entirely deaf composer running over passages on the piano, music he could scarcely hear.”

The manuscript was on view briefly this afternoon at Palmer Theological Seminary, and will be on view at Sotheby’s New York from November 16th-19th and Sotheby’s London on November 28th, 29th, 30th and December 1st.

There was a similarly serendipitous Bach manuscript discovery in Germany in May.

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About Eric Olsen

  • godoggo

    Ludwig Van’s late quartets are some of my favorite music music ever, but this piece has always left me pretty cold, because it seems like a technical excercise written without much sensitivity to the instruments (which I understand is considered to be an occasional problem after he went deef – the choral writing in the 9th being an example I’ve seen held up), but I suspect I might like the quadromanoic (I just made that word up; there’s undoubtedly an actual word that means 4-handed, but what the hell) version, since it seems more pianistic than stringistic (see previous parentheticism – oh, god, I can’t restrain myself today) to me. A while back I was reading this website (lemme google it; here it is about all the fun Shostakovich had trying to compose at the pleasure of Papa Joe, which contained an anecdote about how the composer loved playing duets of the Grosse Fugue, which he’d memorized, with visitors.

    Anyways, so I amazoned piano versions of the Grosse Fugue, and came of with something called Complete Beethoven Edition Vol. 6 – Piano Works / Demus, Alder, Gilels, Mustonen, Kempff, Barenboim.
    Somehow just the list of titles on disk 8 really makes me want to hear this stuff:
    1. Sonata In D Major, Op. 6: 1. Allegro molto
    2. Sonata In D Major, Op. 6: 2. Rondo. Moderato
    3. 3 Marches, op.45: No.1 In C Major – Allegro ma non troppo
    4. 3 Marches, op.45: No. 2 in E Flat Major – Vivace
    5. 3 Marches, op.45: No. 3 In C Major – Vivace
    6. ‘Grosse Fuge’ In B Flat Major, Op. 134: Overtura. Allegro – Meno mosso e moderato – Allegro – Fuga. (Allegro) – Meno mosso e moderato – Allegro (molto e con brio)  
    7. 2 Preludes Through All Twelve Major Keys For Piano Or Organ: No. 1
    8. 2 Preludes Through All Twelve Major Keys For Piano Or Organ: No. 2
    9. Fugue In D Major For Organ  
    10. 5 Pieces For Mechanical Clock: No. 1 In F Major – Adagio assai  
    11. 5 Pieces For Mechanical Clock: No. 2 In G Major – Scherzo. Allegro  
    12. 5 Pieces For Mechanical Clock: No. 3 In G Major – Allegro  
    13. 5 Pieces For Mechanical Clock: No. 4 In C Major – Allegro non piu molto
    14. 5 Pieces For Mechanical Clock: No. 5 In C Major – Menuett. Allegretto
    15. Grenadier March For Mechanical Clock In F Major, Hess 107