Autographed manuscript of Bach's Fantasia sells for £70,850

Sotheby's is holding several auctions of rare books, autographs and manuscripts this summer, including the sale of John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for A Life in the Day.

For the classical music lover and collector, however, the most exciting sale was held last week.

192 lots went under the hammer in the sale of Music and Continental Books and Manuscripts, with composers represented including everyone from Bach to Holst to Stravinsky to Wagner.

Beethoven was well represented by six lots, including some rare and exciting pieces of handwritten music. But the piece which most appealed to bidders was a letter thought to be to his lawyer Dr Johann Baptist Bach (obviously not to be confused with Johann Sebastian Bach).

The letter concerns the inheritance of family property by Beethoven's nephew, Karl, and is thought to relate to Beethoven's legal battle to wrest guardianship of the boy from his mother, following his father's (Beethoven's brother's) death.

His relationship with Karl was very important to Beethoven, and this letter captures some of the composer's combative nature, with the result that it achieved £33,650.

Other highlights of the sale included a manuscript of the original version of Schumann's well-known piano piece from Bunte Blätter which was previously unrecorded, and a long lost manuscript of Schubert's song Blondel zu Marien.

The Schumann exceeded expectations of £15,000-20,000 to bring £34,850 whilst the Schubert, which is signed and significantly different from other versions, sold near the top end of its £40,000-60,000 estimate at £54,050.

Bach Manuscript
Bach manuscript for French Suites and Chromatic Fantasia
The top lot, however, was the manuscript of the French Suites for keyboard and the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue.

Not only is the brown ink on staves lot an important and previously unknown source for the pieces, but it is carefully annotated by another hand, apparently a Bach enthusiast, with musical references made at a time Bach's music is generally thought to have sunk from view.

Estimated at £30,000-50,000 it sparked a bidding war and eventually left the stage for £70,850. Autograph and manuscript collectors and investors can now look forward to sales of John Lennon's lyrics and Rene Magritte's letters.

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