Beethoven was inspired by the poetry of Robbie Burns

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A manuscript showing Beethoven's attempt to compose folk music to words by poets such as Robbie Burns as part of a mission to promote Scottish culture, is to be sold at auction.

A manuscript showing Beethoven's attempt to compose folk music to words by poets such as Robbie Burns as part of a mission to promote Scottish culture, is to be sold at auction.

The works, which were commissioned by the Scottish publisher George Thomson, proved so difficult for amateur performers that they were eventually abandoned in 1820, after 126 arrangements.

The 22-page manuscript containing five songs has been owned by a family on the Continent for the past 40 years and has not been seen by many scholars. It is the most complete score in Beethoven's hand to come to the market for 15 years.

George Thomson was secretary to the board of trustees for the Encouragement of Arts and Manufacturers in Scotland and he began his mission of promoting Scottish culture by commissioning the best-known composers of his day to apply their talent to folk music. He hoped these songs would encourage families to perform traditional music in their drawing rooms.

He enlisted Haydn, then Weber and Hummel, turning to Beethoven in 1803, when the German had already realised he was to lose his hearing. Haydn appears to have treated the commissions as hack work and produced workmanlike efforts, but Beethoven applied his genius to the folk-song settings.

Correspondence in the British Library shows Beethoven and Thomson in heated exchange after the composer refusing to simplify his arrangements. Beethoven, fully aware of his own worth, also continually haggled over the price. He wanted four ducats a song, more than had been paid to Haydn.

Among the works included in this manuscript, which dates from 1815, are versions of Highland Harry by Burns in which a young girl laments a lost lover, and Tis the Last Rose of Summer by the Irish poet Thomas Moore.

The manuscript comprises 22 pages still apparently bound by the original twine. It was bought by the present owners for about £2,000 in 1964 when there was little interest in Beethoven's work on folk music, but is now expected to make up to £450,000 at Christie's in London on 30 November.

Thomas Venning, of Christie's, said: "Europe was at war at the time and getting someone in Vienna to compose your music was about as complicated as it could be. But Thomson was determined to get the best. Beethoven was obviously interested in the money but he took the songs really seriously as a musical challenge. Thomson was bowled over by the quality but he would write back and say, 'Please can you do something a bit simpler', But for Beethoven, that was impossible."

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