Appraiser Describes Finding Beethoven Sketch Leaf in Connecticut Home
The professional appraiser who found a piece of work by Ludwig van Beethoven said the discovery was the "highlight of my career."
"It was just sort of hanging in a hallway and I saw it essentially right when I walked in, from across the room," Brendan Ryan told ABC News. "I said to myself,'‘Oh my God, that’s Beethoven.'"
"I recognized the handwriting because [Beethoven] has unmistakable handwriting," Ryan said.
What Ryan found hanging in the hallway of a Greenwich, Conn., home was a sketch leaf by Beethoven containing music to the famed composer’s opus 117, "König Stephan."
Ryan said the relic had been in the hands of the Greenwich family for 100 years.
"There are textbooks written on his sketch leaves but this sketch leaf is virtually unknown," Ryan said.
“We were there to look at other things, like furniture and paintings, but I knew that the Beethoven [leaf] was a valuable object and added it to our appraisal,” he added. “The owner decided that she would like to sell it and that’s when all the real research started because at that point we didn’t know what the music was.”
Ryan, a composer himself and former music student, turned to Carmelo Comberiati, his college professor at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., for help trying to find the piece of music attached to the sketch leaf.
“It took about three weeks and was a lot of work,” Ryan said. “I equate it to trying to find a word in the dictionary without knowing the first letter.”
“We started combing through his works and I was able to find a photograph of another sketch leaf that was in the digital archives at the Beethoven Haus in Bonn, Germany, where Beethoven was born,” Ryan said. “I was able to deduce that this was from a piece of Beethoven’s ‘King Stephan.’”
He continued: "The sketch leaf gives insight into his work process. Parts are only in pencil and others are also done over in pen -- that’s evidence that this is the area where Beethoven decided, 'Okay, that’s the theme I’m going to use.'"
Butterscotch Auction Gallery, the Bedford, N.Y., auction house where Ryan is employed, sold the sketch leaf for $120,000 at an auction last month.
The owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, received a windfall of $100,000. The buyer, according to Ryan, was an “important German autograph manuscript dealer.”
“It’s certainly one of the highlights of my career,” Ryan, a 10-year veteran of the appraising business, said of the find. “For me, personally, Beethoven is an idol of mine. It’s like seeing pages by your favorite author in the flesh.”