Entertainment & Arts

Gustav Mahler £4.5m manuscript breaks record at Sotheby's

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Media captionThe moment the Mahler manuscript sold.

A piece of music handwritten by Gustav Mahler has broken the record for the highest price for a musical manuscript sold at auction.

The composer's Second Symphony, which spans 232 pages, fetched £4.5m at Sotheby's on Tuesday morning.

But a controversial score which the auction house said was handwritten by Beethoven failed to sell.

The authenticity of the manuscript for the composer's 1817 piece, Allegretto in B minor, had been questioned.

Sotheby's had stood by the manuscript's authenticity and expected it to fetch up to £200,000.

But ahead of the auction, Prof Barry Cooper, a musicologist and Beethoven scholar, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there were inconsistencies within the piece.

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Media captionWho wrote this Beethoven score?

"[With] some of the notes it's slightly ambiguous, [with] other notes it's clear the copiers simply miscopied a note in a way that Beethoven certainly wouldn't - there's no doubt about that," he said.

"The curves in this copy are much more curved and elegant than any curves in Beethoven's manuscript."

But Dr Simon Maguire, head of musical manuscripts at Sotheby's, said: "We're responsible for making sure we get things right, and I have had two world class Beethoven experts come in [to authenticate it].

"At the end of the day, if we got something wrong, we would have to pay out. So I made sure I had two experts who I've shown manuscripts to for the last 25 years, and whose expertise and ability I have learned to trust."

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Image caption Simon Maguire of Sotheby's said the Beethoven manuscript was authentic

The hammer price for the original manuscript of Mahler's Second Symphony was £3.9m. The added Sotheby's premium brought the total to £4,546,250.

There were four telephone bidders for the manuscript, which is thought to have been written between 1888 and 1894. The winning bidder chose to remain anonymous.

The only comparable handwritten music manuscripts of major symphonic works to have been sold at auction include the manuscript of nine Mozart symphonies - which fetched £2.5m in 1987.

The manuscript of Robert Schumann's Second Symphony sold for £1.5m in 1994.

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