Insignificant Beethoven letter fetches $275,000

Insignificant Beethoven letter fetches $275,000


norman lebrecht

November 16, 2020

An insignificant letter by the great man, asking a pianist to send his music back, has gone for $275,000 in an online US auction, four times the estimate.

Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas, has not bothered to reserach the addressee, a ‘Herr von Baumann’, or the date of the letter which could be any time between 1802 and 1816.

The successful bidder is a US pianist, who intends to donate the manuscript to the college where she studied.



  • Dander says:

    I wonder what Pfizer’s famous press release claiming its cov-19 vaccine is 90% effective will go for. On further analysis of data mentioned in the media, it would in fact only have a 50% efficacy a bit more than Flu which took 20 years to develop, test approve and market. Clearly the stock market likes big numbers to buck the share price.

    • Daniel says:

      And how is this related to the article?

    • Alexander T says:

      What’s that got to do with the price of eggs?

    • Doc Martin says:

      Yes its all about stock pricing.

      Pfizer’s claim their vaccine “may be more than 90% effective”. The specific data are not given in their press release, however it is fairly easy enough to approximate the numbers involved, based on the 94 cases in a trial that has enrolled about 40,000 subjects: 8 cases in a vaccine group of 20,000 and 86 cases in a placebo group of 20,000.

      This yields a Covid-19 attack rate of 0.0004 in the vaccine group and 0.0043 in the placebo group. Relative risk (RR) for vaccination is 0.093, which translates into a “vaccine effectiveness” of 90.7% [100(1-0.093)].

      This may sound impressive, but the absolute risk reduction for an individual is only about 0.4% (0.0043-0.0004=0.0039).

      The number needed to vaccinate (NNTV) is 256 (1/0.0039), which means that to prevent just one Covid-19 case, 256 individuals must get the vaccine; the other 255 individuals derive no benefit at all, but are subject to vaccine adverse effects, whatever they may be and whenever we learn about them.

      We’ve already heard that an early effect of the vaccine is “like a hangover or the flu.” Will vaccinees who are later exposed to coronaviruses have more severe illness as a result of antibody-dependent enhancement of infection (ADEI), a known hazard of coronavirus vaccines? Is there squalene in the Pfizer vaccine?

      If so, will vaccinees be subject to autoimmune diseases, like Gulf War Syndrome and narcolepsy that have been associated with the adjuvant?

      We already know that current Covid-19 vaccine trials are unlikely to show a reduction in severe illness or deaths. Will they be like seasonal influenza vaccines, which have not proved to be lifesavers, and may even have increased overall mortality in the elderly?

      We need a lot more time and a lot more data, especially in view of massive uncertainties about Covid-19 case definitions and statistics before embarking on a mass vaccination programme.

  • Andres says:

    Who could be this US pianist ( woman) who bought the item?

  • Max Raimi says:

    Admirable she will donate the letter. But if I had that kind of disposable income, I’d like to think that I could find ways to spend it that would be of considerably more benefit to the world. Perhaps, to be fair, she is doing that as well.
    This sort of memorabilia will be much harder to glean from our internet age.

    • E Rand says:

      Why don’t you go and lecture the buyer about how they best ought to spend their money? I’m sure all involved will enjoy that.
      May I make an appointment with you to tell you how to spend yours?

  • John Borstlap says:

    The picture of B’s signature suggests a signing of a much later letter, when he was very ill.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Not necessarily. I did think the same thing until I remembered that one of the tell-tale signs of aging and declining health can be found in the signature. 50 would have been comparatively ‘old’ at that time. Ergo, LvB didn’t have to be ‘very ill’ for that signature. He could even have been drunk, god forbid!!!

  • Michael Lorenz says:

    “Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas, has not bothered to reserach(!) the addressee” — Well, no one bothered to ask me who this Mr Baumann was.

  • The only time Beethoven asked for the music back was either that it was not yet published, he’d lent out the only fair copy and needed it back temporarily for the copyist to make a neat copy for the publisher; or, he had sent a copy to the publisher and wanted it back to amend before setting. As he promises to return the music soon after, and promises the violin sonata in g, the letter is most likely a note to an employee of Siegmund Anton Steiner & Co, or a copyist working on their behalf in 1816 – as both the Archduke trio and Vn sonata no 10 were published by them in 1816.

    • Beethoven never corresponded with employees of publishers, only with the publishers themselves. Steiner’s employees are documented, a Herr Baumann was not among them. Why should Beethoven send a violin sonata to a minor employee? The recipient were most likely the actor Friedrich Baumann or the musician Leopold Baumann.

      • Nev churchill says:

        Fair doos. He seems to have used Schlemmer for the copies of these

      • Nev churchill says:

        Perhaps the Coutts Bank representative in Vienna in 1815 responsible for taking copies to England for Birchall? “Von Bauman” not Friedrich Baumann based on other letters between the two.

  • Mr Neville P Churchill says:

    Compare with notes to Steiner and Haslinger at this date at

  • Dander says:

    He would be laughing his head off if he knew folk in 2020 valued a wee scrap of paper he scribbled on.

    They know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  • Dander says:

    What relevance is a mere scrap of paper? Beethoven would be laughing his head off at you fools.