NPR logo Juilliard Chairman Donates Trove of Rare Artifacts

Juilliard Chairman Donates Trove of Rare Artifacts

Juilliard Chairman Donates Trove of Rare Artifacts

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Among the manuscripts donated is the first known sketch and manuscript prepared for the printer for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with extensive corrections by the composer. hide caption

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Among the manuscripts donated is the first known sketch and manuscript prepared for the printer for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with extensive corrections by the composer.

NEW YORK (AP) — One of the most famous phantoms of the auction circuit — the anonymous buyer — has unmasked himself.

He's a commodities trader, one of Forbes magazine's 400 richest people, and he just donated some of his trophies to the Juilliard School — an eye-popping trove of manuscripts of works by such immortal composers as Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

Bruce Kovner, who dropped out of a Harvard Ph.D. program and drove a New York taxi before starting Caxton Associates LLC, secretly amassed the priceless collection during the past decade of auction hunting.

"I started collecting just for the personal pleasure of being close to these icons of the greatest musical achievements in Western music," said Kovner, who is also chairman of Juilliard's board. "At a certain point I realized that it would be better to make this collection available to the rest of the world rather than to keep it under a mattress."

The self-described music lover and amateur keyboard player who was once "absolutely terrorized" by a harmony professor at Juilliard's evening division announced the donation at a news conference Tuesday, two days after his 61st birthday.

It also was a perfect birthday gift for Juilliard, which is celebrating its 100th year.

Works in the Juilliard Manuscript Collection range from the 1680s — Purcell's opera "Dido and Aeneas" — to Schnittke compositions of the 1990s. Also included are works by Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Mahler, Copland and Stravinsky.

"It's a historic day at the Juilliard School," said Joseph W. Polisi, the conservatory's president. "The gift represents one of the finest collections of musical manuscripts to be amassed in modern times."

It consists of sketches, editions prepared for the printer and original manuscripts. The neatly printed "Dido" is an 18th century volume that's one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of Purcell's opera. Other items appear as uncertain scribbles and include clarifications from the composer about how the music should sound. Such notations didn't always make it to the publisher, scholars at the news conference said.

Speaking of the collection's works by Beethoven, musicologist Maynard Solomon said: "They are reflections of his mind at moments of his supreme creative achievements. But sometimes they give us an unexpected portrait of a composer in the midst of doubt and uncertainty."

Among Kovner's acquisitions was Beethoven's 80-page piano transcription of the "Grosse Fuge," discovered recently at a suburban Philadelphia seminary. Kovner, the now no-longer-anonymous buyer, purchased it for $1.95 million late last year at Sotheby's in London.

It also includes the first known sketches and manuscript prepared for the printer of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with corrections handwritten by the composer, and the autograph score of the final scene of Mozart's opera "Le Nozze di Figaro."

"When I saw the scope of the collection I was speechless," said Michael Griffel, a Schubert expert and chairman of the music history department. "Suffice it to say that life at Juilliard will never be the same. It will be an expanded paradise for music scholars."

Christoph Wolff, a Bach expert at Harvard University, noted that the collection includes works for a variety of genres and from many different European countries and America.

"What I find particularly striking is the richness and balance and the focus of this collection, which covers 300 years of musical history from the late 17th to the late 20th century," he said.

The collection will be housed at the school in September 2009, after construction of a climate-controlled reading room. It will be available to scholars, performers and the public by appointment. Until then, requests for access will be considered, said Juilliard librarian Jane Gottleib.

Every item will be microfilmed and digitized and eventually placed on a Web site, she said. Special care and white-glove handling will be needed because of the high acid content of the paper.

Kovner said he hopes the collection will help bridge the divide between scholars, performers and the public by providing common inspiration.

"I think that ... the Bach manuscript or the changes that Mozart made in the score or the markings absolutely unknown and authentic on Brahms' Opus 118 are going to inspire performers, are going to inspire a generation of students here," Kovner said. "If it inspires students and scholars and others to attend to the music, attend to these great achievements and help to bring them to life again, that's a practical purpose fused with what might be called the spiritual."