30 Jan 2006

Alex Ross on Beethoven's Great Fugue

Secrets of a Beethoven manuscript.

[New Yorker, 6 February 2006]

Last summer, a librarian at the Palmer Theological Seminary, outside Philadelphia, reached onto the bottom shelf of a basement cabinet and pulled out a lost manuscript by Beethoven. It was a draft of an arrangement for piano, four hands, of the composer’s “Grosse Fuge,” or “Great Fugue” (or, as the cover inexplicably said, “Grande Tugue”). Once the property of a nineteenth-century industrialist-composer, it had disappeared, “Citizen Kane”-style, into the clutter of his belongings, some of which the seminary inherited. The manuscript was handed over to Sotheby’s, which sold it in December to an unnamed buyer for $1.95 million. Shortly before the sale, the manuscript was put on display. With some misgivings, I went to Sotheby’s to have a look.

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