Manuscript of Beethoven's 9th sells for almost EUR3 million

Fri, May 23, 2003, 01:00

BRITAIN: The final working copy of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was sold at auction yesterday for almost €3 million, a record for a manuscript from the German composer.

The manuscript, prepared for Beethoven by two copyists and containing the composer's own handwritten revisions and notes, sold for £2,133,600 sterling.

It had been expected to fetch up to £3 million. The record for any manuscript at auction is 2,585,000 pounds, paid in May 1987 for nine complete symphonies written by Mozart.

The final offer for the Beethoven manuscript came from an unnamed private collector on the telephone after fierce bidding with another person who was present in the central London auction room, a Sotheby's spokeswoman said.

"It is an incomparable manuscript of an incomparable work, one of the highest achievements of man, ranking alongside Shakespeare's Hamlet and King Lear," Sotheby's spokesman Stephen Roe said before the auction.

"The manuscript, which was used by the printer for the first edition, contains music apparently unpublished and is the only full score of the symphony ever likely to come on the market," Roe said.

The 575-page manuscript is marked throughout with thousands of scribbles and alterations by the composer, showing how it reached its final form in 1824.

The notes changing tempo and tune include an insight into the artist's frustration including the written remark in German "du verfluchter Kerl" (you damned fool).

The insult apparently refers to the fact that Beethoven's favourite copyist had died, and his two replacements appeared to be struggling with the composer's handwriting.

Beethoven received an invitation to write what became the Ninth Symphony in 1817.

It has become a classical favourite and in the last movement is teamed with the words from German poet Friedrich von Schiller's Ode to Joy. Some believe the working manuscript was used as the conducting score for the music's world premiere attended by Beethoven in Vienna in 1824 Fans of the work have included Adolf Hitler who had it played at a number of his birthday concerts.

It also featured in Stanley Kubrick's controversial film A Clockwork Orange.