A letter has been circulating among the upper echelons of museum donors in New York, informing them that one of the city’s most treasured musical assets is up for sale.
The Robert Owen Lehman collection at the Morgan Library is described on its website as ‘the world’s finest private collection of music manuscripts’. It contains handwritten scores from major composers, starting at Bach, Beethoven and Berg and running down alphabetically to Schubert, Schumann, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Webern. In the middle are two Mahler symphonies, the third and ninth (the Morgan also safeguards the second, fifth and Das Lied von der Erde, making it the most important Mahler autograph resource on earth, see here
sketch of Mahler’s song, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
But all that is about to change. Lehman, a man of advancing years, has notified the Morgan that he is putting the collection up for sale.
The price is US $135 million.
And there are two conditions attached – that the collection is bought intact and that it remains within a public institution. Lehman, I am told, intends to devote the proceeds of the sale ‘to the benefit of music and musicians’. (Bad news, then, for the yacht makers: these are the Lehmans of Lehman Brothers).
The Morgan Library, where the manuscripts have been expertly curated, has expressed an interest in buying them outright and is canvassing its donors for bequests. But in the thick of recession it may not be able to raise the money quickly enough, so foreign buyers are being contacted.
The likeliest overseas purchaser would be the Paul Sacher
foundation in Basel, Switzerland, rolling in pharmacueticals money and already the largest collection of modern scores.
The Austrian National Library would also want to be considered and, where Vienna goes, Munich is seldom far behind.
This could be the music sale of the century – and it would be a massive blow for New York prestige if the Mahlers, Schuberts and Stravinskys all left town on the same liner.