Mozart Manuscript that Evaded the Nazis Up for Sale on Tuesday

Sunday, May 18, 2014 - 08:00 PM

Mozart 'Kyrie' Manuscript to be auctioned at Sotheby's Mozart 'Kyrie' Manuscript to be auctioned at Sotheby's (Sotheby's)

An incomplete Kyrie by Mozart, well-known but missing for 75 years, has resurfaced and will be auctioned on Tuesday at Sotheby’s, where it is expected to fetch between $500,000 and $800,000.

The undated manuscript, which contains the first five pages of a Kyrie in C minor, has a remarkable history. It was smuggled out of Nazi Germany in 1938 by Rudolf Götz, a Jewish orchestral musician working in Munich. Götz fled for South America, all the while keeping the main score separate from its title page to mask the piece’s true identity.

The title page was transported on a separate ship, which was torpedoed and lost in 1939 (along with all the Götz family's furniture), but the Mozart manuscript survived the war. Its its existence was made known to a few Mozart scholars during the 1980s.

Mozart was believed to be 16 years old at the time of the Kyrie's composition, but he abandoned it after five pages. It's not clear why: the music suggests that the composer was thinking on a grand scale, drawing on a full complement of strings, winds, organ and a four-part chorus. Sotheby’s called it “the most substantial and important autograph music manuscript by Mozart to have been offered at auction for ten years.”

The unusually high price estimate for the Kyrie has evidently provoked a bit of a quarrel among some academics. Commenters on an American Musicological Society Internet forum have objected to the widespread attention given to the manuscript, claiming that the hype would drive up the bidding price and presumably, raise the odds that it would fall into a private collection off-limits to researchers.

One unnamed scholar observed that the visual art world would keep silent about a similar discovery because generating additional interest would have a clear effect on the price.

Jonathan Bellman, a musicologist at the University of Northern Colorado, disputed the claims of excessive hype. “I don’t see an ethical issue with the discussion of a newly emerged, long-lost manuscript,” he wrote on the blog Dial M for Musicology. “Far better that people should be aware when such things surface, so that the interest generated would make it more likely for people to at least get their hands on high-quality reproductions.

“Besides, I find the ethical issues involved in expecting people to muzzle themselves about important discoveries to be far more problematic.”

At his death, Mozart left around 150 musical fragments, which, for various reasons, were never completed.

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