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Academic denies irresponsibility in Sotheby's Beethoven manuscript row


The manuscript is to be auctioned at Sotheby's

The manuscript is to be auctioned at Sotheby's

The manuscript is to be auctioned at Sotheby's

The academic who was accused by Sotheby's of having had a "direct impact" on the failure of the sale of a Beethoven manuscript has said it would have been "irresponsible" to not air his expert views on the item.

The London-based auctioneer became embroiled in a heated dispute over the validity of the manuscript for Beethoven's Allegretto In B Minor with Manchester University's Professor Barry Cooper.

The academic said that the piece was not written by the composer himself and argued his point during a heated discussion with Sotheby's director of books and manuscripts Dr Simon Maguire on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The handwritten score was expected to fetch up to £200,000 at auction but failed to sell during Tuesday's Music and Continental Books and Manuscripts sale.

Prof Cooper was dubbed "irresponsible" by Sotheby's because he had not inspected the document himself.

But he has maintained that it would have been more irresponsible to refrain from sharing his doubts about the manuscript's authenticity when examining the composer's handwriting from afar.

He said that his "over 40 years" of studying Beethoven's manuscripts put him in solid stead to state they were not the handiwork of the composer himself.

Prof Cooper told the Press Association: "I cannot see how it can be regarded as irresponsible to point out, as a Beethoven expert who has been studying his manuscripts for over 40 years, that certain features in this manuscript do not match Beethoven's handwriting anywhere else, and that the only plausible conclusion is that he did not write it himself; it is simply a careful copy of his autograph score.

"It would in fact be irresponsible not to point this out. Of course I took into account its provenance and inscription, but they do not alter the details of the handwriting.

"Moreover, although a personal inspection would enable me to study the paper type and the nature of the ink, handwriting features are perfectly evident in a good photocopy such as I have.

"Sotheby's have not named a single world-renowned Beethoven scholar who considers the writing to be Beethoven's. On the other hand, I could easily name six Beethoven scholars who are convinced this is not his own handwriting, and I have not yet encountered a single one who disagrees.

"Sotheby's are well aware that one outstanding Beethoven scholar inspected the manuscript in person last week and confirmed that doing so made no difference at all. He was appalled that they were trying to sell it as genuine when it quite clearly was not."

He concluded: "I am happy to agree with Sotheby's that this manuscript is an authentic and important piece of musical history; but it was not written by Beethoven, and I notice that their latest statement does not actually assert that it was, if read carefully."

A Sotheby's spokesman said: "We believe it was irresponsible for a third party to raise doubts about Beethoven's Allegretto In B Minor manuscript when they had not inspected it first-hand or taken into account its provenance and the inscription by an English vicar confirming that it was composed and written by Beethoven.

"This unfortunately had a direct impact on the auction sale, but Sotheby's stands by its description of the manuscript as an authentic and important piece of musical history and Sotheby's view is shared by the majority of world-renowned Beethoven scholars who have inspected the manuscript personally."

The manuscript has been described as Allegretto In B Minor For String Quartet composed and written by Beethoven on November 29 1817 in Vienna.

Prof Cooper disputed "several aspects which prove absolutely that it couldn't possibly be Beethoven's hand" on the BBC Radio 4 programme prior to the auction.

Dr Maguire said two world-class specialists had examined the document to assess and verify it and claimed Beethoven experts "think it is more a matter of Prof Cooper misreading the manuscript than anybody else, let alone Beethoven".

"I don't agree with his analysis of what the manuscript says," he said.

In the increasingly heated exchange on air, Dr Maguire said the professor had "resolutely refused" to visit the auction house to look at the manuscript.

Prof Cooper said there was no need to make the journey to London because he was able to see "perfectly clearly" that it was not penned by the composer, and branded the situation ''absurd''.

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