Cambridge college sells musical treasures

Cambridge college sells musical treasures


norman lebrecht

May 29, 2019

If you think your bequest will be held forever in college archives, think again.

Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge is selling what is known as the ‘Box of Delights’, presented by Caius alumnus Dr Philip Marriott (1965) in 2004.

It consists of of 87 paintings, sketches, musical compositions, poems, stories and vignettes by some of the most celebrated artists, writers and musicians of 1920s Vienna, including Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Béla Bartók, Oskar Kokoschka, Arthur Schnitzler, Karel Capek and Stefan Zweig, and will go on sale at Sotheby’s on Tuesday 11 June.



Dr Philip Marriott inherited the box from his adoptive father, David Bach’s nephew, Herbert Bach. It was Dr Marriott’s wish that these beautiful works, would receive the care and attention they deserve.

At Dr Marriott’s request, the proceeds will be used to help the College and his old school to provide outstanding educational opportunities for future generations of students. This will honour David Bach’s belief that art and education should be made available as widely as possible.


  • Ned Keene says:

    Ker-ching! And off they go into private hands, never to be seen again.

    • Fritz Curzon says:

      I’m not arguing one way or the other, but how many people knew of/viewed this collection since 2004?

      • SVM says:

        Poor discoverability from the perspective of the general population of music connoisseurs does *not* negate the value of an archive.

        To give an obvious example, many /Urtext/ editions make use of music manuscripts (and possibly other types of archival material, such as letters) to inform their approach to the work under consideration. So, if you ever use an /Urtext/ edition, or go to a concert where the performer(s) availed himself/herself thereof, you have probably benefitted from those archives, even if you had never heard of or consulted them directly.

        Archives are also an enormously valuable means of elucidating the culture, praxis, and life not only of a composer, but also of his/her contemporaries and colleagues. Many scholarly books (and some non-scholarly writings) have drawn on research involving the consultation of archival documents.

        And let us not forget the emotional value of original physical documents connected with something of historical or cultural importance. A couple of years ago, when visiting Edinburgh, I went to the National Library of Scotland to consult a couple of books, and was astounded at the length of the queue to see an exhibition including one of the last letters of Mary, Queen of Scots (alas, it was too long for me). I suppose there would have been some academic historians specialising in that facet of history, but I got the impression that most of the crowd were ordinary members of the public.

        Naturally, it can be a subjective judgement as to which papers are worth preserving in an accessible archive (and the custodian must also consider whether to make the material available to anyone, or to restrict access on the grounds of the material’s fragility). But I must dissent from Fritz Curzon’s implied suggestion that selling a relatively undiscoverable archive were no loss. Poor discoverability is far easier to remedy than poor accessibility.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Yes, from being locked in a college’s archive to being locked in a collector’s home.

      • 18mebrumaire says:

        A bit of perspective would help. Most of the items can be inspected in the sale catalogue online. The collection is little more than a loose-leaf autograph book, little 2-4 measure musical quotes from published works + birthday greetings and composer signature. All very nice and pretty but hardly primary source material.

    • Bill says:

      Be the top bidder for them at auction and you can control whether anyone sees them again. They were in private hands before being donated to the college, don’t forget. And there’s nothing that dictates that the college (or similar “non-private hands”) would have to make the items any more accessible than some collector. Be that top bidder and you, too, can enjoy being told what you should do with your money and possessions!

      • Peter says:

        Funny isn’t it, how people prefer suggesting how others should behave, rather than doing it themselves. Especially if those others are rich, successful, or famous. Well, I’m not in any danger from that anyway.

  • MusicBear88 says:

    This wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with their music director resigning back in April, would it? Nah…

  • Tiredofitall says:

    I had to laugh…which of the college’s lawyers crafted that generalised bequest language, “provide outstanding educational opportunities for future generations of students”?

  • Bill says:

    If you want them to hold your gift forever, you have to spell that out in the donation agreement. Not sure why this would be a surprise to anyone. And it does appear that the donor’s wishes (“At Dr. Marriott’s request, the proceeds…”) are being respected here.

    • anon says:

      Nowadays, many institutions will reject gifts of tangible materials if obliged to retain them in perpetuity. A more realistic strategy would be to stipulate that, if unable or unwilling to retain the materials at some point in the future, ownership of the material reverts to you (or your heirs).

      And, even if bound to retain material in perpetuity, some institutions have the unfortunate habit of breaking agreements — a notable case in recent years was the Warburg Institute in London.

      A notable musical case can be seen in the Schoenberg archive: when, in the 1990s, the University of Southern California broke the terms of an agreement that its bespoke building for the Arnold Schoenberg Institute should be used solely for activities relating to the aims of the Institute, Schoenberg’s grandson reclaimed the archive, and negotiated its transfer to Vienna (creating a new outfit called the Arnold Schönberg Center [sic]).

      • Bill says:

        And that is their reasonable prerogative (to reject such gifts). Let’s not forget that the primary reason to give something to an institution should be to help that institution, not burden it. All the more reason to plan and execute such gifts carefully.

  • Jennifer Hillman says:

    Did we know of this collection and have the chance to view it during the last 54 years?

  • Jennifer Hillman says:

    Sorry, correction: last 15 years…..

  • Dennis says:

    I’m confused by some of the language used here. The first line refers to a “bequest”, i.e. something received by the school pursuant to Dr. Marriott’s Will after his death. Yet, the second line days Dr. Marriott “presented” the box to them in 2004, and later the college says he has “requested” that the proceeds from the sale be used in a particular manner (all implying that he was alive and well in 2004 when he gave them the box, and is alive and well now and apparently has agreed to the sale). Is Dr. Marriott still alive or not? When he gave the box to the college, was it an unrestricted gift, or was there an agreement governing the college’s use and display of the box, or any restriction placed on any later sale (apparently not)? If the gift came with no strings attached, then there’s not much Dr. Marriott can do to restrict the sale (Though it appears they have consulted him. Was that just a courtesy, or would they have stopped the auction if he had disapproved of its being sold?)

    If it was in fact a “bequest” (i.e. Dr. Marriott is deceased and the college received it under the terms of his Will), then he should have been more careful in his gifting language if he intended to make it a permanent part of the college archives and to restrict any future sale.

    • Peter says:

      Interesting question. The “bequest” seems to be a general comment from NL.

      A quick search of Dr Phillip Marriott suggests that he was still practicing medicine in and after 2011, is perhaps now happily retired, so whatever happened in 2004 he was fully alive.
      There are many possible explanations, and one is that the papers were given to Caius with the intention of selling them eventually, and they have held them safely until now, perhaps having photographed, documented, and researched them, and they now want to realise their financial value and sell them to a suitable buyer who will make them publicly available. Could be lots of other things, but unlikely that a reputable institution like Caius College would go against a donors wishes. Why look for intrigue when simple explanations are readily available ?

  • R. Probestrangler says:

    Gonville with the wind (like the choir leader/organist they threw out for groping not so long ago?)

  • fflambeau says:

    “At Dr Marriott’s request, the proceeds will be used to help the College and his old school to provide outstanding educational opportunities for future generations of students. This will honour David Bach’s belief that art and education should be made available as widely as possible.”

    Translation: we need money badly and will do anything, but anything to get it. If we could have sold off David Bach himself we would have done it.

    • Bill says:

      Alternate translation: we can make a bigger difference with the money someone will pay for this than we can showing it to the small number of people that have asked to see it in all the years we’ve had it.

      It was given to the college, not lent, and apparently without restrictions that would preclude this sale. The donor apparently accepts what they are doing. What you or I think they should do with it is irrelevant. Go see it at the auction viewing or persuade your rich uncle to bid on it.

  • Patricia Yeiser says:

    I suspect that they may have run out of room. But why not give it all to the FItzwilliam? Unless it’s been moved, it’s right down the street.