Beethoven Auction Report December 1996 - December 1997
Brilliant, Ira F., The Beethoven Journal
December 5-6,1996; May 16, December 5, 1997
March 18-19, November 25-26,1997
Hotel Drouot, Paris
April 25, 28, 30, 1997
October 9, 1997
I BEGIN HERE WITH THE SALE OF DECEMBER 5, 1996 AT Sotheby's in London because lot 241 was a portrait of Friedrich Schiller. The association with Beethoven is merited by the influence Schiller exerted on Beethoven's creativity, particularly his lifelong ambition to set Schiller's ode "To Joy" to music. Beethoven extracted from this drinking song the stanzas which appealed to his nobler instincts and immortalized them in the final movement of the Ninth. The portrait was a miniature painted from life in 1787, when Schiller lived in Dresden. The artist was Dora Stock, a sister-in-law of Christian Körner, who befriended Schiller and entertained the cultural elite, including Mozart and Goethe, in Dresden. Schiller was twenty-eight at the time of the portrait. Estimated to sell for £10,0000 -15,000, it sold for £12,500 which, including the buyer's premium and prevailing rate of exchange, came to $23,300.
Sotheby's held its usual music sale the following day with ten Beethoven lots. The major item was a sketch leaf for the Sanctus and Benedictus of the Missa solemnis. Sketch material for the Sanctus is quite scarce, and that rarity was reflected in the estimate of £40,0000 -50,000 ($65,840-82,300) and even more so by the sale price of £,60,000 ($113,570, which here and elsewhere in this report includes the buyer's premium but without allowing for an agent's commission). Equally attractive was an original letter, Anderson no. 678, Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe 892, with a probable date of February 1816 (the date given in the new critical edition). The letter was written to Baron Pasqualati requesting him to give the score of the String Quartet in F Minor, Opus 95, to the copyist Wenzel Rampl. Sotheby's estimate was £10,0000 -12,000 ($16,460-19,750), surpassed by the successful bidder with a winning bid of £16,000 ($30,300). Several fragments of a sketch leaf for the String Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132, in no way close to the quality of the Missa solemnis sketch leaf, bore an estimate of £7,0000 -9,000 and a hammer price of £10,500 ($19,900). A leaf from the conversation books referring to the String Quartet of E-Flat Major, Opus 127, written in pencil in a disconnected manner, with paper faded, browned and creased, carried an estimate of £7,0000 9,000. Though physically unappealing, the document benefited from the Beethoven charisma, yielding a price of £11,500 ($21,750). First edition sales of note included a copy of the Ninth Symphony with the subscribers' list (£3,600; $6,800) and a second issue of the score of Fidelia for £1,300 ($2,460).
The Stargardt sale in Berlin on March 18-19, 1997 had only one Beethoven item, but it was a major one: a long letter to the Berlin publisher Adolph Schlesinger dated February 20, 1822. Previously unpublished, it is included in the new critical edition as number 1458. The letter contains discussion of the Fortepiano Sonata, Opus 111 (including the fact that he is sending a corrected second version of the variation movement), comments on the Missa solemnis, and other tidbits of a musical nature. It is a letter which will certainly be subject to careful review by scholars since it represents an important source for the compositional history of both works. Stargardt placed an estimate of 60,000 DM on it and there was lively bidding by dealers and institutions alike. The winner was the Beethoven-Haus at 70,000 DM ($49,700).
The scene now shifts to Paris. French auction practices differ greatly from other countries. The most popular venue in the French capital is the hotel Drouot, where rooms are made available to many different auctioneers, who can offer their own material as well as material on consignment. The estimates are generally very low, but lively bidding will generally bring prices up to familiar levels. …