Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

The Newly Discovered Quartet Movement by Beethoven

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

The Newly Discovered Quartet Movement by Beethoven

Article excerpt

I. The Discovery

On October 7, 1999 it was announced to an astonished world that the autograph score of an entirely unknown string quartet movement by Beethoven had been discovered. The manuscript, which contains a complete 23-measure Allegretto in B Minor, had been preserved since the nineteenth century in a house at Pencarrow, Cornwall, and formed part of a manuscript collection owned by the Molesworth St. Aubyn family, who had decided to auction the entire collection at Sotheby's, London. Stephen Roe of Sotheby's, with the aid of the Beethoven-Archiv in Bonn, was able to verify the authenticity of the manuscript before the discovery was made public.

Pencarrow is situated in a fairly remote part of northern Cornwall near Tintagel, which is better known as the reputed birthplace of King Arthur and the inspiration for a tone poem by Arnold Bax than for any Beethoven association. Nevertheless, the means by which Beethoven's manuscript of the Allegretto travelled from Vienna to Pencarrow seems clear enough. The manuscript bears an inscription in English as follows: "This quartetto was composed for me in my presence by Ludwig v. Beethoven at Vienna Friday 28th November 1817 Richard Ford."1 Richard Ford (1796-1858) became quite well known in his lifetime as an indefatigable writer and collector of pictures. He is particularly renowned for his travels in Spain, where he lived from 1830 to 1834, and for his work on the Spanish painter Velazquez; and in 1845 he published a Handbook for Travellers in Spain, a massive work of over a thousand pages, despite its unassuming title.2 When Ford met Beethoven, however, he was only twenty-one years old and newly graduated from Trinity College, Oxford; and at the time the meeting seemed so insignificant that no evidence or record that it took place at all was known until the discovery of the Pencarrow manuscript. Ford must have brought it back to England in person, and may have taken it to Spain and back before settling in Heavitree, Devon, in 1834. In 1851 he married for the third time, and after his death in 1858 his widow, Mary née Molesworth, built up a large collection of manuscripts of various sorts, including the Beethoven one. Meanwhile her brother Sir William Molesworth had inherited the Pencarrow estate, which had been in the Molesworth family since the sixteenth century. As one might expect, therefore, her collection eventually ended up at the ancestral home. It was a remarkable collection, numbering over 200 lots when it was finally sold at Sotheby's, and among the famous names represented were Charlotte Bronte, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, Prince Albert, King Edward VlI, Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon, to name but a few. The collection also contained a few letters by composers, including Berlioz, Liszt, Gounod, Mendelssohn and Wagner. Two of Beethoven's friends were represented as well - Bettina Brentano and Karl August Varnhagen von Ense - but their two letters were both written long after Beethoven's death.

It seems unlikely that the quartet movement was actually performed at Heavitree or Pencarrow during the nineteenth century. No set of parts has been discovered and there is no known reference to any performance. Someone may have tried it out on the fortepiano, playing direct from the score, but the first proper performance was probably the one at 10:30 a.m. on October 8, 1999 at Sotheby's, the day after the discovery was announced. The performance was given by the Eroica String Quartet, and a recording was broadcast on the radio by the BBC later that day, although the score has not yet been made generally available for scrutiny. The manuscript was sold for £150,000 (plus premium) on December 8, 1999 (see Ira Brilliant's auction report in this issue).

The discovery of the work is particularly remarkable when seen in context. There have been several Beethoven discoveries of various sorts in the last few decades, and they can be divided into four main categories. …

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