Money: Collecting - Classic Chance for Those Who Know the Score ; Music Manuscripts

By Birtles, Jasmine | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), May 2, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Money: Collecting - Classic Chance for Those Who Know the Score ; Music Manuscripts


Birtles, Jasmine, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


There are few areas of collecting where a piece of paper can be worth more than pounds 1m, but music manuscripts is one of them.

"I've seen prices for music take a lunge forward in the past six years," says Stephen Roe, head of the manuscripts department at auction house Sotheby's. "A few great things have come on the market, and the prices they've achieved have attracted more. It's exciting because there are still some great works that can be bought - unlike literature where you're unlikely now to pick up something like an original Dickens."

"Great things" is no exaggeration. Last year the manuscript of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony sold at auction for pounds 2.1m, and in 2002 the sketch leaf for the same symphony - a mere piece of paper - sold for pounds 1.3m.

As with most areas of collecting, music manuscripts increase in value if they are in good condition, are by a famous composer and, best of all, are either entirely hand-notated by the composer or autographed by him. Naturally, the better-known and more distinguished the composer, the higher the value. Sometimes the look of the piece can help too. At Sotheby's next auction, to be held on 21 May, Stravinsky's original score of "Petrushka" will be on sale for an estimated pounds 1.5m-pounds 2m. The composer's neat and artistic notation makes this a particularly attractive piece, quite apart from being a major work.

Also featuring at this auction is a restituted Mahler manu- script (estimated price pounds 400,000-pounds 600,000) with a tragic tale behind it. It is a song called "Ich bin der Welt" and was presented to the composer's friend and fellow Jew, Guido Adler, in 1905. After Adler died, his daughter Melanie tried to preserve his library but was murdered by the Nazis.

"This is probably the last major Mahler score that will come on to the market," says Mr Roe. "These things are going to be rarer as time goes on. It is interesting which composers stand the test of time. Mahler was once considered a minor composer but has now become a major one."

It is heartening for those who don't have a spare few hundred thousand pounds to invest to know that composers and songwriters considered minor today could be rather more important later on. "Music manu- scripts are more specialist than books because while most people can read, not that many can read music," says artist and piano teacher Paul Douglas, who collects 19th- and 20th-century light music. "It makes it easier to pick up bargains in charity shops because quite often they don't know what they've got. Recently one woman found an Elgar score, with his own handwritten notations, selling in an Oxfam shop in London for pounds 1. It sold at auction for thousands."

Mr Douglas, like many similar collectors, buys old manuscripts that are now out of print.

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