Doubts cast on 'lost' sonatas: Haydn manuscripts may be forgeries

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The Independent Online
DOUBTS are being expressed over the 'musicological coup of the century'. The six 'lost' Haydn sonatas discovered in Germany earlier this year may not be all they seem.

Professor H C Robbins Landon, a celebrated musicologist and biographer of Haydn, revealed the discovery of the six lost keyboard sonatas two weeks ago. Yesterday he said that he might have been the victim of the 'Tom Keating of music forgers' - though brilliant, the works might not be genuine.

The six sonatas have long been the subject of speculation. They are listed, identified by their opening bars, in Haydn's own catalogue of his work. He wrote the sonatas between 1766 and 1769, at the time of a crisis in his spiritual life. A fragment of a copy of one appeared in the late 1960s, but the sonatas have never been found in their entirety.

Yesterday, Professor Robbins Landon accepted the verdict of colleagues, including the Haydn Institute of Cologne, and decided to reserve his judgement until the originals of the manuscripts have been discovered. So far only photocopies have been seen.

The manuscripts were first seen by Winfried Michel, a respected flautist with a Dutch orchestra. He was shown them some months ago by an elderly woman in Munster in the German province of Westphalia. She had had them for many years, unaware of their value. Marks on them showed them to have originated in Italy in about 1805, and to have once been in the library of a bishop.

But Stephen Lowe, a manuscripts expert at Sotheby's, has given the photocopies the thumbs down. In the February issue of BBC Music magazine he explains his doubts: that the copyist's attempt at baroque handwriting suitable to the period is not convincing. The writing may even have been done with a steel nib, years before they were in use. It is accepted that the manuscripts, like much of Haydn's work, are not in the hand of the composer himself.

The Haydn Institute of Cologne has already decided that the pieces are not genuine. But yesterday Professor Robbins Landon said he remained in no doubt about the quality of the music.

'If this really is a fraud then we have got to drag this guy to London and get him to produce more,' Professor Robbins Landon said last night.

'Even if this turns out to be a total fabrication, it's very, very good: I should be such a faker]'

Audiences will get a chance to judge for themselves when the pianist Paul Badura-Skoda, whose wife, the musicologist Eva Badura-Skoda, was first approached by Mr Michel, gives the works their world premiere at Harvard University on 12 February.