Music buy of the century is on the block

The appearance on the auction market of the greatest music manuscript to be offered this century has library curators and collectors worldwide scampering for their checkbooks. The original handwritten scores of nine of Mozart's symphonies are to be sold at Sotheby's in London on May 22.

The symphonies are all early works and represent more than a fifth of the 44 that Mozart is thought to have composed. Three are acknowledged masterpieces: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K.201/186a, which has been described as ``the crowning achievement of Mozart's early symphonies''; Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K.183/173dB; and Symphony No. 28 in C major.

The manuscript up for auction is especially important because it contains the only surviving full scores of the symphonies and therefore is the primary source for all published editions.

The manuscript is a single bound volume of more than 500 pages. Almost the entire text is written in brown ink on thick cream paper in Mozart's own hand. It is known that the paper is the type Mozart used in the years 1773-75, which shows that the symphonies were written before the musician was 20.

Dr. Stephen Roe of Sotheby's points out that the manuscript is of interest to musicians, even though the scores have been published. ``The way the music is written down is significant,'' he says. ``You can learn a lot about the composer's intention by looking at the manuscript.''

A well-known conductor, seeing the scores at a recent showing, commented, ``Now I know how to conduct these works.''

All other manuscripts of known Mozart symphonies are in public collections in Europe and the United States, so there is not likely to be another sale of this kind. The present manuscript has been sent to auction by an anonymous private collector. Sotheby's estimates its value at between 1 and 2 million, several times the previous record for a music manuscript.

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