Academic accused after Beethoven manuscript fails to sell amid authenticity row

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Sotheby's has criticised an academic who questioned the authenticity of a Beethoven manuscript, claiming that the resulting row over its legitimacy meant it failed to sell at auction.

The auction house said the musical work's validity was dismissed without it being "inspected first-hand" and stood by its description "as an authentic and important piece of musical history".

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 academic Professor Barry Cooper, who was adamant that the document was not penned by the composer.

The handwritten score was expected to fetch up to £200,000 at auction but failed to sell on Tuesday.

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.

Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven (AP/PA)

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, a musicologist and Beethoven scholar, clashed with Sotheby's director of books and manuscripts Dr Simon Maguire over whether it was genuine.

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

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.

Gustav Mahler's complete Second Symphony (the
Gustav Mahler's complete Second Symphony (Sotheby's)

In the increasingly heated exchange, 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".

Sotheby's succeeded in breaking a new auction world record for another musical manuscript during Tuesday's Music and Continental Books and Manuscripts sale, with Gustav Mahler's complete Second Symphony (the "Resurrection") selling for £4,546,250.

The Mahler work spans 232 pages, written in the composer's hand, and was expected to reach in excess of £3.5 million. It beat the auction record which had stood for nearly 30 years, set in 1987 when a manuscript of nine Mozart symphonies sold for £2.6 million at Sotheby's.