L. van Beethoven. A lock of the composer's grey hair given by him to Anton Halm in 1826, in a C19 frame
12,000 - 15,000 GBP
BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN
A substantial lock of the composer's grey and dark brown hair, evidently given by him to the pianist Anton Halm in 1826
secured with a silk thread, in a nineteenth-century glazed oval frame (11.5 x 10cm), gilt border, with a later (c.1900?) inscription on verso ("Locke Beethovens. Aus dem Besitze von Professor Julius Epstein. Letzterer erhielt sie von seinem Lehrer Anton Halm widmete sie als Treffer einer Wohltätigkeits-Loterie und gewann sie zurück")
The pianist and composer Anton Halm (1789-1872) got to know Beethoven well, after meeting him in 1815 and playing for him frequently. The composer liked Halm's bluff military manner and apparently bore him no ill-will even after Halm's wayward piano playing in the Choral Fantasia in 1817 brought the performance to a halt. In 1826 Halm made an arrangement of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge op.133 for two pianos and it was evidently during this period that Beethoven gave him this lock.
Halm told Beethoven's great biographer A.W. Thayer (presumably during Thayer's stay in Vienna, 1859-1864) that, while at work on the Grosse Fuge in 1826, he had asked Beethoven's factotum Carl Holz to secure a lock of Beethoven's hair for his wife Maria. The hairs arrived a few days later, supposedly Beethoven's, but in fact cut from a goat. When he had finished his arrangement of the fugue, Halm brought it and the hair to Beethoven. The composer was furious that his friend had been deceived, and promptly snipped off some hair and gave it to him, declaring it to be genuine. According to Thayer's notes, Halm had told him:
"I asked Carl Holz to forward my wife’s request to Beethoven and, after a few days, she received a lock of hair through a third party, supposedly Beethoven's" [it was at this time that Beethoven asked Halm to arrange the Grosse Fuge for piano four hands], "Meanwhile, Carl Gross, a skilful amateur cellist, asked me with a cheeky smile, 'Who knows if the hair is genuine?', although I had no doubts about it. Once I had completed the piano arrangement, I took it to show Beethoven ... As I was about to leave, he turned to me with a fearsome expression and said: 'You have been deceived about this lock of hair! See what terrible creatures I am surrounded by, whom respectable people should be ashamed to be with. You've been given the hairs of a goat'. And with that, he gave me a sheet of paper containing a considerable quantity of his hair, which he had cut off himself, telling me 'This is my hair!' " [translation].
Unfortunately, Beethoven was equally unimpressed with Halm's arrangement of his Grosse Fuge and made his own version, published as op.134 (sold by Sotheby's in 2005). Nevertheless, the present lock of hair is indisputably human. Other locks of Beethoven's hair that we have seen have invariably been taken from the composer on his deathbed in 1827, and this is one of the best documented.
Anton Schindler (in 1845) and Ludwig Nohl had already published versions of this well-known Beethovenian anecdote, evidently prompting Thayer to track Halm down to get to the truth of the matter. Thayer's version "from the horse's mouth" was recorded in his drafts and notes for the final parts of his monumental biography of Beethoven. Only the first three volumes were published in Thayer's lifetime, by his friend Hermann Deiters in 1866-1879, the fourth and fifth volumes not until 1907-1908, edited by Deiters and Hugo Riemann. All Thayer's papers were lost sometime between the two World Wars, but he presumably recorded Halm's story in German, as it appears in Deiters and Riemann:
"...In die Zeit der Vorbereitungen und der Aufführung des B-Dur-Quartetts fällt ein mutwilliger Scherz, den man sich mit einer Haarlocke Beethovens erlaubte. Wir haben darüber die eigene Erzählung des Nächstbeteiligten, des Klavierspielers und Komponisten Anton Halm an Thayer, der sie in seinen Notizen aufgezeichnet hat. Durch dieselbe wird Schindlers Erzählung einigermaßen berichtigt und ergänzt...»Bei dieser guten Gelegenheit ersuchte mich meine Frau, den Beethoven um eine Haarlocke zu bitten. Allein da Beethoven nicht hörte und mehrere Menschen zugegen waren, nahm ich Anstand mit Beethoven persönlich darüber durch sein Notizbuch zu unterhandeln. Ich ersuchte daher Carl Holz den Wunsch meiner Frau Beethoven vorzutragen. In einigen Tagen erhält meine Frau durch einen Dritten eine Locke, die Beethovens Haar sein soll" Während dieser Zwischenzeit ersuchte Beethoven Halm, die Quartettfuge zu vier Händen für das Pianoforte zu arrangieren. "Mittlerweile hatte Carl Groß, ein geschickter Dilettant auf dem Violoncell, mir gesagt, mit Achselschupfen: 'Wer Weiss ob das Haar ächt ist?', und doch hatte ich keinen Verdacht. Nachdem dieses Arrangement fertig war brachte ich dasselbe zu B[eethoven]...Wie ich weg gehen wollte, trat er mit einem furchtbaren Ernst im Gesicht mir entgegen mit den Worten: 'Sie sind mit der Haarlocke betrogen! Sehen Sie, mit solchen furchtbaren Creaturen bin ich umgeben, dass sie alle Achtung, die sie respectablen Menschen schuldig sind, auf die Seite setzen. Sie haben Haare von einer Geiss.' Und so sprechend gab er mir in einem weissen Bogen Papier eine bedeutende Quantität seiner Haare, welche er sich selbst ganz rückwärts ausschnitt, mit den Worten: 'Das sind meine Haare!' – Wahrscheinlich hat er die Haare von hinten abgeschnitten weil es dort noch schwarz war, während vorne alles schon schneeweiß war. – So ging ich im Triumph mit diesem erhaltenen seltenen Geschenk nach Hause. ..."
A.W. Thayer, Ludwig van Beethovens Leben, edited by H. Deiters and H. Riemann (1866-1908), V, pp.303-304; A. Schindler, Biographie von Ludwig van Beethoven, (1845), p.262 (translated as Beethoven as I Knew Him, edited by D.W. MacArdle, pp.383-384); L. Nohl, Beethovens Leben, (1864-1877), III, p.941; P. Clive, Beethoven and His World (2001), pages 146-147;
Anton Halm (1789-1872), friend, performer and arranger of Beethoven; Julius Epstein (1832-1926), pupil of Halm.
A third-party report and chemical analysis was prepared for the former owner in 2007, which reports a high lead content, similar to the lock sold here on 1 December 1994, Lot 33.
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