Collecting: Classic chance for those who know the score

Music manuscripts

There are few areas of collecting where a piece of paper can be worth more than £1m, but music manuscripts is one of them.

There are few areas of collecting where a piece of paper can be worth more than £1m, but music manuscripts is one of them.

"I've seen prices for music take a lunge forward in the past six years," says Stephen Roe, head of the manuscripts department at auction house Sotheby's. "A few great things have come on the market, and the prices they've achieved have attracted more. It's exciting because there are still some great works that can be bought - unlike literature where you're unlikely now to pick up something like an original Dickens."

"Great things" is no exaggeration. Last year the manuscript of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony sold at auction for £2.1m, and in 2002 the sketch leaf for the same symphony - a mere piece of paper - sold for £1.3m.

As with most areas of collecting, music manuscripts increase in value if they are in good condition, are by a famous composer and, best of all, are either entirely hand-notated by the composer or autographed by him. Naturally, the better-known and more distinguished the composer, the higher the value. Sometimes the look of the piece can help too. At Sotheby's next auction, to be held on 21 May, Stravinsky's original score of "Petrushka" will be on sale for an estimated £1.5m-£2m. The composer's neat and artistic notation makes this a particularly attractive piece, quite apart from being a major work.

Also featuring at this auction is a restituted Mahler manu- script (estimated price £400,000-£600,000) with a tragic tale behind it. It is a song called "Ich bin der Welt" and was presented to the composer's friend and fellow Jew, Guido Adler, in 1905. After Adler died, his daughter Melanie tried to preserve his library but was murdered by the Nazis.

"This is probably the last major Mahler score that will come on to the market," says Mr Roe. "These things are going to be rarer as time goes on. It is interesting which composers stand the test of time. Mahler was once considered a minor composer but has now become a major one."

It is heartening for those who don't have a spare few hundred thousand pounds to invest to know that composers and songwriters considered minor today could be rather more important later on. "Music manu- scripts are more specialist than books because while most people can read, not that many can read music," says artist and piano teacher Paul Douglas, who collects 19th- and 20th-century light music. "It makes it easier to pick up bargains in charity shops because quite often they don't know what they've got. Recently one woman found an Elgar score, with his own handwritten notations, selling in an Oxfam shop in London for £1. It sold at auction for thousands."

Mr Douglas, like many similar collectors, buys old manuscripts that are now out of print. He has found a number of reasonably valuable scores by rummaging in charity and second-hand shops. "I picked up a William Lovelock piano score for £1 once. He's not very well known but I know it's worth quite a bit more." He also looks for pieces by Percy Grainger, Constant Lambert and Vaughan Williams. "The quality of the printing from the 1930s to 1950s is much better than it is now. The front covers are also very attractive."

Smaller collectors like Mr Douglas tend to focus on one era or one composer. Members of the Billy Mayerl Society, for example, collect everything the jazz pianist ever wrote, as well as other syncopated, ragtime and generally light music written between 1915 and 1950. Even in this relatively unknown area, prices have gone up recently, says the society's secretary, Mike Lorenzini. "Billy published over 300 originals and 120 songs. Seven or eight years ago you could pick up one of his pieces in a junk shop for £1 or so; now we have to put down £25 to £30 a go."

You can find items like these on auction website Ebay now, or in catalogues from music dealers across the country. Travis & Emery in London produces a quarterly catalogue of manu- scripts and printed music ranging in price from just under £1,000 to as little as £12.50.

Helen Hardy from Travis & Emery says there is currently a great deal of interest in English music from the 1930s, and particularly late Victorian copies. "Something by Sullivan on his own, without Gilbert, is very sought-after, as are works by Charles Parry and Charles Stanford. You might pay around £125 for the printed score of one of their symphonies. As with books, there's also a lot of interest in first printed editions of major works from the 1800s, such as those by Mozart and Beethoven."

For the newer collector looking to invest in good music, Mr Roe advises: "Buy what you're interested in, look at what's out there and get the best quality you can afford." Works by composers you consider to be good or potentially great are likely to stand the test of time and appreciate later on, even if no one else has heard of them now.

They may not fetch millions in a decade's time but you could still be pleasantly surprised by their value.

HIGH NOTES

Prices

Anything from £1 for a charity shop "find" to £2.5m or more for a handwritten composition from a master musician.

More information

Billy Mayerl Society: Shellwood, St Leonards Road, Thames Ditton, Surrey KT7 0RN, tel: 020 8224 1521.

Travis & Emery: 17 Cecil Court, London WC2N 4EZ, tel: 020 7240 2129.

2004 events

* 21 May: Music sale at Sotheby's, London.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sport
News
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Life and Style
tech
News
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
News
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
News
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
media
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Client Services Executive / Account Executive - SW London

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Account Executive / Client Services ...

    PA to CEO / Executive Secretary

    £36000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Executive PA to CEO & Executive Dire...

    Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

    Senior C# Developer (.NET, C#, JMS, TDD, Web API, MVC, integrat

    £45000 - £75000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Senior C...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis