Extraordinarily important autograph sketchleaf for Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, one page both sides, 11 x 9.5, no date, but circa 1820–21. In ink and pencil, Beethoven pens his ideas for the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Gloria sections of the Missa Solemnis. The earliest material, written on both sides in ink, is for the Sanctus and consists of modulatory material in D major in 3/4 time—a notable difference from the finished work, which is in 2/4. Beethoven added the pencil portions of the manuscript later, likely after he began carrying this page as a pocket leaf (as evidenced by its vertical fold). The composer was known to always carry paper in his coat pocket while outdoors so that he could jot down musical ideas as they came to him; in these instances, pencil was his preferred writing instrument. The passages in pencil on staves three through six on the front make up part of the Gloria, representing a powerful passage in the fugue where the sopranos take up the fugue theme in augmented rhythmic values. The Benedictus occupies the lower half of the reverse, identified in Beethoven’s own hand as “2te Theil Benedict,” also noting the key as E major. In very good condition, with a central vertical fold, various edge chips and small tears, and two small toned tape remnants to edges of the front. Accompanied by a report from musicologist William Kinderman discussing the piece. Provenance: Sotheby’s, London, December 5, 1996.
Unknown until 1996, this manuscript was discovered among the papers of Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s private secretary and earliest biographer. Schindler added a few ink and pencil marginal notations, labeling the piece along the bottom of the front (translated): “Sketch for the Sanctus of the Second Mass in 3/4 meter.” He also identifies the sketches on the reverse in the left border (translated): “Idea for the Benedictus of the Second Mass.” Respected Beethoven scholar William Kinderman describes this sketchleaf as ‘a noteworthy source that documents the genesis of the Sanctus as well as aspects of the genesis of the Benedictus and the Gloria.’ This manuscript represents a stage in the development of the Missa Solemnis where the opening section and tonal balance begin to resemble the completed composition, despite the disparity in meter.
During Beethoven’s lifetime, the Missa Solemnis was widely considered his masterpiece. It was this work to which he dedicated the most time and intense effort, working on it over the course of four years. In a letter of 1819, Beethoven wrote, ‘The day when a High Mass of mine is performed in honor of the solemnities…will be the most delightful of my life,’ and in 1822 called the Missa Solemnis his ‘greatest work.’ The piece is even present in the most famous image of Beethoven, an 1820 portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, which shows the composer holding a pencil above his notebook labeled ‘Missa Solemnis.’ A remarkable piece, rarely does an item arise that offers such great insight into the creative process of genius—essentially unmatched in magnificence, this Beethoven manuscript is a true historical treasure. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.