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The 14pp manuscript is Mahler’s full orchestral setting of Friedrich Rückert’s poem on the musings of a weary, despairing artist, one who is “lost to the world”, and presents a vocal counterpart to the celebrated and heartbreaking ‘Adagietto’ in his Fifth Symphony.

As such, it is both one of the composer’s most personal works and, in a well-chosen phrase in the catalogue description, “almost a touchstone for the beautiful in music”.

This calligraphically crafted manuscript is warmly inscribed and dedicated to Mahler’s friend and supporter, the Austrian musicologist Professor Guido Adler (1856-1941), but it disappeared when his Vienna home was ransacked during the 1938 ‘Kristallnacht’ assaults on Jewish homes.

Following Adler’s death, it was appropriated by a lawyer appointed to deal with his estate and only restituted to one of his descendants in 2004, following a court case that had lasted four years.

The only known autograph source for the orchestral version, it was sold that same year at Sotheby’s to the late Gilbert Kaplan. The US businessman and devotee of Mahler’s music was an amateur conductor who gave numerous public performances and made recordings with major international orchestras. He also established a foundation devoted to the study and promotion of Mahler’s music.

Following the manuscript’s return to Adler’s family, it was sold at Sotheby’s for £370,000, but though it fell short of expectations this time, it did sell at £550,000.

Just last November, Kaplan’s manuscript of Mahler’s Symphony No.2, the ‘Resurrection’, was sold at Sotheby’s for £3.9m (see report in ATG No 2271). In this May sale a single sketchleaf, presenting a draft for ‘The Last Trump’ in the fifth and final movement, made £85,000.

Described as “hitherto untraced” and as a “Mahler discovery”, a long-lost autograph fair copy for the song from his Kindertotenlieder that in English is rendered ‘Now the sun wants to rise as brightly’ sold for a high-estimate £190,000.

Bach back once again

The remaining lots featured in this report follow a roughly chronological path, beginning with a Bach manuscript that has changed hands three or four times in the last hundred years. It scored yet another success when it served as the overture to this London sale.

The Bach lot had been in an American collection and unavailable for study for some 20 years, which, with one notable exception*, is also the period of time that has passed since a manuscript wholly in Bach’s hand has been put up for public auction.

Herr Gott Dich loben alle vir is a two-page manuscript of the revised first violin part for his Cantata No. 130, originally composed as a trumpet part (at Michelmas, 1724) and part of the sequence of great chorale cantatas written in the composer’s second year in Leipzig.

High expectations for the return of such a rarity were met, and as Lot No 1 it brought a bid of £380,000.

Last seen at auction in 1998, when Sotheby’s sold it for £80,000, a leaf containing the opening of Mozart’s famous Rondo in A for Piano and Orchestra (K386), signed and dated 1782, was sold this time at £240,000.

Sold for £150,000 was an autograph leaf in which Beethoven tries out early ideas for all three movements of his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, one of his greatest compositions and familiarly known as the ‘Emperor’.

Beethoven’s pupil, Archduke Rudolph of Austria, was the dedicatee and took the solo part when the concerto was first performed in 1811, but other distinguished previous owners include Friederich Schneider, soloist at another early performance in Leipzig.

It was last offered at auction in 1996, when Stargardt of Berlin sold it for around £24,000.

Another of the sale’s more keenly pursued lots was a large autograph album leaf, signed and dated Paris 1844, on which Chopin has copied out the opening of his Étude in A-flat major, Op 25, No. 1, first published in 1837. It sold for £140,000.

Brahms tunes in

Manuscripts of complete works by Brahms are rare at auction, and an early working draft for his Organ Fugue in A flat minor, which was first published in 1864, prompted enthusiastic bidding.

It is signed, dedicated and inscribed to Clara Schumann, apparently on the occasion of her husband Robert’s birthday in 1856. During this period, Brahms was spending much of his time at the Schumanns’ home in Dusseldorf, as their protégé.

It remained with Clara’s descendants until 1998, when it was sold by Sotheby’s at £21,000, but this time the price was a double-estimate £110,000.

Among the more recent musical manuscripts was the full orchestral score for ‘Doubles’, Pierre Boulez’ first work for large orchestra – premiered in Paris in 1958. It doubled the high estimate to sell at £80,000.

One of the few printed works in the sale was a 1724 first of Rameau’s Pièces de clavessin…. The only example recoded at auction, it seems, this example in 18th cenury half calf, is one that in 1964 was given by Imogen Holst to the keyboard virtuoso George Malcolm and is warmly inscribed “…A thank you for the Rameau performance… at Aldeburgh”.

It sold at £60,000 – four times the high estimate.

* At Christie’s in July 2016, the manuscript of Bach’s Prelude, Fugue & Allegro in E flat major for lute or keyboard sold for £2.18m.