Rare Pre-1800 Beethoven Autograph Manuscript Scores $225,000 At Auction

An extremely scarce autograph musical manuscript by Ludwig van Beethoven has sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction. Beethoven’s first sketch of “Neue Liebe, neues Leben,” which was written circa 1798-1799, reeled in $225,000 at RR Auction on Friday. It blew by pre-sale estimates of $150,000.

Beethoven autograph manuscript
Beethoven autograph manuscript. (credit: RR Auction)

Manuscripts written by Beethoven before 1800 rarely, if ever, come to market. According to RR Auction, “no other complete autograph manuscript of this version is known.”

“Neue Liebe, neues Leben,” which means “New Love, New Life” in English, is a song that captures the excitement and turmoil of falling in love.

Written by Beethoven in his late 20s, the manuscript consists of three pages on two sheets of paper, each measuring about 12 by 9 inches. It’s not a neat, polished copy, but rather a rough draft scribbled down that RR Auction describes as a “very cursory, almost rushed hand.”

The song itself is a setting of a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Written in 1775, Goethe’s poem captures the dizzy, overwhelming feeling of new love. Beethoven’s music complements these emotions, with a melody that alternates between joyful exuberance and moments of uncertainty.

This early version of the song is quite different from the one Beethoven eventually published in 1810. As Ludwig Nohl, a 19th-century Beethoven expert, put it, this first draft has a “grandiose and dark quality” compared to the later version. It’s more dramatic and passionate, giving us a window into Beethoven’s raw emotional state at the time.

For years, the two sheets of paper were separated, each following its own journey through time. The first sheet was discovered in the archives of a music publisher in Mainz, Germany, and sold at auction in 2002 for over $82,000. The second sheet had a more roundabout journey, passing through various private collections before being auctioned in Cologne in 2011 for $115,500. Now, after more than 200 years, these two pieces have finally been reunited.

“In fine condition, with occasional quite insignificant brownstaining; altogether very crisp. Both leaves annotated with Beethoven’s name in a near-contemporary hand. At the head of the first page is the ‘mysterious caption’ (cf. Nohl), also by a different, early hand: ‘Der Schluß von seinem letzten Septuor als Motto für den Text’ (apparently referring to Beethoven’s Septet, Op. 20, also written in 1799; a tentative explanation is advanced by van der Zanden, p. 168). The second leaf is mounted to a cloth stub with another, blank sheet of contemporary paper. Housed in a handsome red morocco presentation folder with ornate engraved plate on the front: ‘Beethoven, Neue Liebe, Neues Leben, WoO 127,'” RR Auction writes in the description lot.

This wasn’t the only historical Beethoven piece from RR Auction. A signed letter to his secretary sold for $75,000.

The Beethoven items were part of RR Auction’s “Art, Literature, and Classical Music” auction.

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