1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Beethoven's Swan Song on Show

DW staff / AFP (tkw)November 24, 2005

A long-lost manuscript of one of Beethoven's last works, the Great Fugue, went on display in Germany on Wednesday before going under the hammer next week at Sotheby's auction house in London.

Ludwig van Beethoven as painted in 1819 by Josef StiekerImage: dpa

The 81 pages of handwritten music, which were discovered four months ago in the US, are expected to fetch between up to 2.2 million euros ($2.59 million) during bidding on Dec. 1.

Sotheby's music manuscript expert Simon Maguire says the discovery of the scribbled score, which differs from the version printed after the composer died in 1827, will allow the work to be played as the musical genius intended.

"It is the only manuscript and it shows that mistakes were made when the music was printed just after Beethoven's death," Maguire said.

Stone deaf

Beethoven was already completely deaf when he composed the Great Fugue, which is widely considered to be the most important of his manuscripts, the year before his death. He originally wrote it for a string quartet, but as the transcript shows, he subsequently adapted it for a piano duet.

Ludwig van Beethoven Partitur
A Beethoven manuscriptImage: AP

"There are two versions, the one for a string quartet which everybody knows and this one for a piano duet, which nobody knows," Maguire said.

A collector from Connecticut in the United States, William Doane, bought the manuscript at auction in Berlin in 1890, and following his death in 1952, his daughter donated it to a Baptist theological seminary near Philadelphia.

Corrected to perfection

Maguire said they were not aware of the treasure in their collection of Doane's manuscripts until its rediscovery in the seminary's archives last July.

Beethoven is well-known as a composer who continued to correct his work until he was happy with it. Numerous corrections, some of them glued to the page with red sealing wax, show how the composer's last work evolved. Maguire says that makes "some of the pages very difficult to read."

Ludwig van Beethoven
BeethovenImage: AP

In places, the manuscript, which is scored in brown ink, is punctured where the composer is thought to have stabbed at the paper with his pen. He also left clear notes about which fingers should be used to play certain passages.