Beethoven's Fidelio letter valued at $250,000 at PiH

One of the most significant letters written by Ludwig van Beethoven, which details changes to his opera Fidelio, will sell with a $150,000-250,000 estimate at Profiles in History on June 13 in California.

Beethoven Fidelio letter
Beethoven backtracks as he realised the disgruntled baron still has his original score

The letter is addressed to Baron Peter von Braun, one of the most important theatre directors of his day, and is the only written communication between the pair known.

In German, the composer requests certain parts of the opera back from the Chancery of the Wiedner Theatre to make one of his most famous revisions:

Vienna, 4 May 1806

Most Highly Born and Worthy Baron!

Please be so kind as to let me have just a few words in your handwriting, stating that you grant me the permission to have the following parts of my opera fetched from the Chancery of the Wiedner Theatre, namely, the first flute, the three trombones and the four horn parts - I need them for just one day in order to have those trifling details copied for me which for lack of space could not be entered in the score; and also because Prince Lobkowitz is thinking of having a performance of the opera at his palace and has asked me for the score - it so happens that I am not very well, or I would have come myself to pay my respects to you - With the greatest esteem, Ludwig van Beethoven

Fidelio ran for just one night at Peter von Braun's theatre on November 20, 1805, with the audience made up mainly of French officers, as Napoleon briefly occupied Vienna. The performance was a fiasco and Beethoven became angered at his lack of royalties, thinking that Van Braun had ripped him off.

When Von Braun told him he should write an opera in the vein of Mozart, whose works appealed to the masses, Beethoven responded: "I do not write for the multitude - I write for the cultured! Give me back my score! I want my score - my score, at once!"

Yet, a couple of weeks later, Beethoven held out (unfulfilled) hopes of further performances and still did not have his score back from Von Braun. The ingratiating letter was his last attempt at securing his score so he could make revisions for the prince's performance.

However, Beethoven was not wrong in his accusations, with Von Braun later found to be skimming profits from the theatres.

Fidelio eventually found success in 1814 after a third version was produced. It is now a popular part of the international repertory.

News of the sale comes just a day after Sotheby's sold the only known manuscript of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony.

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