Prices for Classical Scores Soar, One Beethoven in Question

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lennygoran
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Prices for Classical Scores Soar, One Beethoven in Question

Post by lennygoran » Sun Dec 18, 2016 7:35 pm

I know we've discussed scores here before but this takes the cake! Regards, Len

As Prices for Classical Scores Soar, One Beethoven Is in Question

By MICHAEL COOPER DEC. 18, 2016

When a 232-page handwritten score of Mahler’s epic Second Symphony (“Resurrection”) sold for $5.6 million at Sotheby’s in London last month, it shattered a nearly 30-year record for the highest price paid at auction for a musical manuscript.

The Mahler is one of the most valuable post-Renaissance manuscripts of any kind to be sold at auction, fetching more than recent sales of Jack Kerouac’s draft of “On the Road” or Bob Dylan’s lyrics for “Like a Rolling Stone.”

But a less important score that failed to sell that same day has since transfixed the music world. A brief Beethoven work for string quartet went unsold when, before the auction, a scholar publicly questioned the assertion by Sotheby’s, and its experts, that the work was written in Beethoven’s hand — igniting an acrimonious debate in the generally staid, tweedy precincts of musicologists and manuscript dealers.

While it is not uncommon for experts to differ on such matters — Is that painting by the old master or the school of the old master? — the Beethoven episode raised questions about transparency in auctions, even as classical musical manuscripts have become a big international business.


Such works rarely come on the market, but when they do, they attract bidders from all over the world. In the initial run-up to the auction last month, most of the attention was on the Mahler score, an important manuscript given by Mahler’s widow, Alma, to the conductor Willem Mengelberg, and later bought by the financial publisher Gilbert Kaplan, who developed an unusual sideline conducting the work with numerous orchestras.

Then came the dispute over the score attributed to Beethoven.

The score has 23 bars of music: his Allegretto in B minor for string quartet, a recently rediscovered work. The listing in the Sotheby’s catalog, below a high-resolution photograph of the score, was unequivocal: It described the work as an “autograph manuscript,” meaning it was in Beethoven’s hand, and stated that it was a copy that Beethoven had made of the piece, which he had composed the day before, as a gift for a visiting Englishman. (An inscription on the score, thought to have been added around the time of its creation, reads: “composed & written by Beethoven himself November 29th 1817 at Vienna.”) The score was expected to sell for up to $248,000.

The controversy erupted when Barry Cooper, a music professor at the University of Manchester, in England, who has published a performing edition of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, went to the BBC with the startling claim that the work was “not in Beethoven’s hand.”

In an interview with The New York Times, he said that he and another scholar had previously told Christie’s that they did not believe it was genuine, and questioned why Sotheby’s, which knew Christie’s had passed on the chance to sell the score, did not acknowledge in its catalog that there was a difference of opinion about the document.

“I think Sotheby’s really should have indicated that there was some doubt about the manuscript, since they knew there was,” Dr. Cooper said.


Simon Maguire, the senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, said that while he had known that Christie’s had passed on the score, he had not known which experts Christie’s had relied on or what their doubts were. He noted that auction houses keep their distance from one another to avoid charges of collusion. (Christie’s declined to comment.)

Dr. Maguire said Sotheby’s had relied on the opinions of experts it trusted — including Nicholas Marston, a professor of music at King’s College, Cambridge, and Otto Biba, director of the archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, two highly respected scholars.

“They gave the all-clear, they said this was genuine, and they have maintained that opinion since, as well,” he said.

He faulted Dr. Cooper for passing judgment on the manuscript without inspecting it personally. “Barry Cooper seems to think that he has a sort of hotline to Beethoven in heaven, and that he can judge a thing without seeing the original,” he said.

Dr. Cooper said that he did not need to inspect it in person, since his doubts centered on the handwriting, including the way the natural signs and double bars were formed, and a handful of notes that differed from a widely embraced manuscript of the work that Sotheby’s experts discovered in 1999.


Before the sale, Sotheby’s issued a notice about the lot, noting that some scholars had suggested it was a 19th-century copy, but adding that “this opinion is not accepted by Sotheby’s, or the majority of world-renowned Beethoven scholars who have inspected the manuscript personally.”

Since then an unusual musicology drama has played out in the British news media. The Telegraph reported that one of the experts who had advised Christie’s that the work was not in Beethoven’s hand, Michael Ladenburger, head of the Beethoven-Haus museum, in Bonn, Germany, had later sought to buy the score for a low price. It quoted Dr. Biba as saying that such an offer would represent a conflict of interest. Dr. Ladenburger told The Telegraph that the accusation was “simply unfair,” but declined to comment further, saying in an email, “I don’t want to extend a story which is unprofitable — not for me but for others.”

Dr. Biba, for his part, said in an email that, while he believed that the work was genuine, he took issue with Sotheby’s assertion that he verified the piece for them. While he had shared his opinion with the auction house, he said, “I didn’t verify the manuscript for Sotheby’s because I don’t work for any auction house, dealer, seller or buyer.”

Dr. Marston, whom Sotheby’s had relied on, said in an interview that he concluded the work was written by Beethoven despite what he called “anomalies,” including the way the double bars were written, and the fact that the viola part is missing a sharp sign in its key signature. “While I don’t dispute that there are peculiarities in it,” he said, “I’m inclined to say that on the balance of probabilities we should assume that it is in Beethoven’s hand.”

Ronald D. Spencer, a lawyer who has worked on authentication cases in the art world, said that such disputes were hardly unusual — and highlighted the need for buyers to do their own due diligence.

“The buyer should understand that there are very few pieces of art or music that do not have any negative views about their genesis,” Mr. Spencer said. “He is, in essence, buying a consensus of expert opinion. And by definition, a consensus is not 100 percent.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/18/arts/ ... front&_r=0

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