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“It was just sort of hanging in a hallway. I saw it immediately when I walked in and thought to myself, “Oh my God, that’s Beethoven.”” This is the remarkable moment when professional antiques appraiser Brendan Ryan identified a lost sheet of manuscript once used to by the 19th century German composer, in a house in Greenwich, Connecticut. Even more astonishingly, the find was a complete surprise, as Ryan had been called to the house in order to valuate furniture and paintings for auction.
Ryan recognised Beethoven’s distinctive handwriting from other similar leaves he had seen, and his hunch was later confirmed by Dr Carmelo Comberiati, a professor of music at Manhattanville College. “Beethoven would write out his ideas. With many other composers, we just have the final product - they threw the rest out. Beethoven didn’t throw anything away,” Comberiati told Greenwich Times.
Once the authenticity of the document was confirmed, Ryan and Dr Comberiati began a musical detective hunt to find which of Beethoven’s works the sketch was related to. After several weeks of research, which Ryan likened to “finding a word in the dictionary without knowing the first letter,” the pair eventually found the heavily worked page of manscript contained sketches for Beethoven’s König Stephan (King Stephan), a relatively obscure work that is rarely performed today.
While several of Beethoven’s sketch books are well known to musical historians and Beethoven scholars, this particular page had not been previously catalogued. “It’s certainly one of the highlights of my career,” Ryan said of the find. “For me personally, Beethoven is an idol of mine. It’s like seeing pages by your favourite author in the flesh.”
The sketch was sold at auction by Butterscotch auctioneers in December for $120,000US - approximately $167,000AUD - to an autographed manuscript dealer in Germany.