Musicologist claims Beethoven manuscript is a dud

On the Today programme this morning, Professor Barry Cooper of Manchester University claimed that a Beethoven manuscript being sold at Sotheby’s today is not an original, but a copyist’s transcription.

At issue is the Allegretto in B minor of 1817.

Cooper, renowned for making a completion of Beethoven’s ‘tenth’ symphony, told the BBC that he had found ‘inconsistencies’ in the Allegretto manuscript. His ‘hunch’ is that it was ‘copied shortly after it was composed’.

Simon Maguire, head of Musical Manuscripts at Sotheby’s, hotly contested Cooper’s claim. You can hear the polite but acrimonious debate here.

UPDATE: BBC row stops Beethoven sale.

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  • I think he may be right. This manuscript doesn’t really look like Beethoven’s handwriting. Rather as someone trying to carefully copy his script. Apart from Professor Cooper’s reasons, the direction in how the notes were written seem to be somehow wrong too. Other clues as the different watermark of the paper used are equally alarming. After Beethovens death a lot of such fakes were thrown on the market. Today, nobody can be 100 % sure about its authenticity. So I wonder why Sotheby’s didn’t do a more thorough research or ask real experts.

  • I’d like to use my vast lack of experience to contribute to this debate…

    A more serious point is to be made here. In more enlightened times, rare manuscripts, whether originals or close copies, were placed in the care of libraries and museums, so that their maintenance and availability to academics and the wider public could be assured.

    A great pity if this, authentic or not, disappears into yet another bank vault.

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