Lot 4
  • 4

Beethoven, Ludwig van

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  • Beethoven, Ludwig van
  • Autograph manuscript of the "Allegretto" in B minor for string quartet WoO 210, composed for an English visitor to Vienna in 1817
  • ink on paper
the complete piece twenty-three bars long, a fair copy notated in dark brown ink, on four systems of four staves each, with a contemporary attestation written at the bottom of the page ("composed &written by Beethoven himself November 29th 1817 at Vienna.")

1 page, oblong 4to (c.24 x 30.5cm), 16-stave paper, watermark letter "K" in lower corner of integral blank, uncut, [Vienna], 29 November 1817, foxing, creasing along folds,


Rev. John Abbiss (c.1790-1883): his inscription at the foot of the page (1817).  Frances Celia Blomefield (who married Dr Arnold van Niekirk in Cape Town in 1922); from whom the manuscript has come down to the present owner by direct descent.   


K. Dorfmüller, N. Gertsch & J. Ronge, Ludwig van Beethoven, Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis, 2 volumes (Munich, 2014); volume 2, pages 549 ("Allegretto" WoO 210), 640 (re Bach BWV 869) and 588 (re LvB Hess 40); cf also volume 1, p.905 (re op.137).

D. Johnson, A. Tyson & R. Winter, The Beethoven Sketchbooks (Oxford 1986), pages 347-350 (re the string quintets Hess 40 & op.137) & 535-538 (re op.106).

L. van Beethoven, Allegretto in h-moll. Faksimile des Autographs und Erstausgabe eines bisher unbekannten Werks, edited by the Biblioteca Bodmeriana Cologny, with an introduction by S. Roe (Munich, 2001)

Catalogue Note

This is a complete albeit brief work dating from the beginning of Beethoven's "Late" period.  It is a second and unrecorded autograph manuscript of Beethoven's farewell present given to one of three Englishmen who visited Beethoven in Vienna in November 1817.  This bagatelle for string quartet was completely unknown until another copy, written the previous day for Richard Ford, was discovered at Pencarrow House in Cornwall in 1999 (see Sotheby's sale, London 8 December 1999, lot 189), now in the Bodmer Library in Geneva-Cologny.  Ford's attestation on that manuscript is similar to the one found here: "This quartet was composed for me in my presence by Ludwig v Beethoven at Vienna Friday 28th November 1817".  Ford's two compatriots on his Beethovenian pilgrimage were John Abbiss and the book dealer David Constable, but there is nothing here to indicate which received this parting gift from the composer. It was apparently Constable who, through several letters of introduction, secured the agreement of Beethoven to this visit.

Although this is primarily an occasional work, it also forms part of Beethoven's intensive studies in fugue, undertaken during his work on the "Hammerklavier" Sonata op.106.  It fits neatly into a nexus of pieces that evolved from these studies in late November 1817, including transcriptions of Bach fugues and fugal chamber music of his own.  The whole period from the end of 1816 until the spring of 1819 was largely devoted to the "Hammerklavier" Sonata, arguably Beethoven's most substantial new project since the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies.  This monumental sonata has contrapuntal writing throughout, with a fugue dominating the final movement.  On the days immediately preceding this "Allegretto", Beethoven produced several short works and unfinished drafts, including a transcription of the B minor fugue in Book 1 of J.S. Bach's Das Wohltemperierte Clavier BWV 869; B minor is otherwise very rare in Beethoven's output and it seems unlikely to be merely coincidental that the present "Allegretto" is in the same key.  The Bach copy is written on the same manuscript, now in Vienna, as his draft for an unfinished Prelude & Fugue for String Quintet in D minor (Hess 40).  We know that this quintet was sketched alongside the String Quintet in D major op.137, the fair copy of which is dated 28 November 1817, ie the very same day as the Bodmer manuscript of the "Allegretto", and the day before this one.   

Beethoven's slightly more polished script here, compared with the Bodmer copy of the "Allegretto", confirms that this is the later of his two autographs.  Musically identical, the two manuscripts are also physically very similar, both being written on a bifolium with an integral blank.  The paper here is not recorded by The Beethoven Sketchbooks, or by Schmidt-Görg (1977); it is rather similar to Tyson type 41, but lettered "K" rather than "GK".  It probably comes from the Kiesling mill in Bohemia, whereas the Bodmer copy bears a "Welhartiz" watermark (both have 16 staves with a total span of 194.5mm).  Beethoven did not keep a desk sketchbook whilst engaged on the "Hammerklavier" Sonata and used a variety of paper-types, including type 41.  The small pocket sketchbook ("Boldrini") that he habitually took on his walks around Vienna is lost.  However, from Gustav Nottebohm's description (1879), we know that it included sketches for the "Hammerklavier", excerpts from Bach's fugues (including the B minor fugue mentioned above), and the two string quintets Hess 40 and op.137.