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Newly Found Beethoven Manuscript to Be Auctioned

A manuscript in Ludwig van Beethoven's own hand, discovered in a Philadelphia seminary this summer, is expected to fetch $1.7 to $2.6 million at auction next month.

The 80-page draft score for the Grosse Fugue for Piano-Four Hands, considered a milestone in Beethoven's career, is being displayed briefly at the Palmer Theological Seminary, where a librarian came across it in July. Its pages include everything from note revisions to fingering details.

The manuscript reveals a composer who revised constantly, even obsessively. There are smudge marks where Beethoven rubbed out the brown ink before it could dry, and scratches where he erased notes with a needle. The red stains, resembling lipstick, are remnants of sealing wax, used to paste in long corrections.

When the music was first heard in the 1820s, critics balked, blaming Beethoven's deafness for the work's difficult harmonies. Beethoven died in 1827, at age 57. The Grand Fugue, with its difficult passages and intricate phrasing, remained at a great distance from public acceptance until the early 20th century.

The next time the handwritten score will be available for public viewing is mid-November, at Sotheby's auction house in London.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.