A wall hanging turned out to belong to one of history’s most famous composers, and no one knew about it.
Calling it the “highlight of my career,” professional appraiser Brendan Ryan recounted how he discovered sheet music belonging to Ludwig van Beethoven hanging on the wall of a northeastern home for a century.
“It was just sort of hanging in a hallway and I saw it essentially right when I walked in, from across the room,” Ryan told ABC News. “I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, that’s Beethoven.'”
“I recognized the handwriting because he has unmistakable handwriting,” Ryan said.
What was displayed in the Greenwich, Connecticut, home was a sketch leaf, a piece of paper with musical bars on it for composers to sketch out their compositions before writing the final product in a legible way. This sketch leaf was Beethoven’s “König Stephan,” or King Stephen, his opus 117 written about the founder of Hungary’s kingdom in the year 1000.
Ryan said the leaf, a relic by any definition, had belonged to the family for 100 years.
“There are textbooks written on his sketch leaves but this sketch leaf is virtually unknown,” he said. Ryan said he had not arrived to the house to look at the sketch leaf at all.
“We were there to look at other things, like furniture and paintings, but I knew that the Beethoven (leaf) was a valuable object and added it to our appraisal,” he added. “The owner decided that she would like to sell it and that’s when all the real research started because at that point we didn’t know what the music was.”
Ryan was a former music student and currently composes his own work when not appraising artifacts. He turned to his former professor at Manhattanville College in New York, Carmelo Comberiati, to help him figure out which composition came from this sketch leaf.
“I equate it to trying to find a word in the dictionary without knowing the first letter,” Ryan said about the three-week process.
“We started combing through his works and I was able to find a photograph of another sketch leaf that was in the digital archives at the Beethoven Haus in Bonn, Germany, where Beethoven was born,” Ryan said. “I was able to deduce that this was from a piece of Beethoven’s ‘King Stephan.'”
“The sketch leaf gives insight into his work process,” he added. “Parts are only in pencil and others are also done over in pen — that’s evidence that this is the area where Beethoven decided, ‘Okay, that’s the theme I’m going to use.'”
Butterscotch Auction Gallery, the Bedford, New York, auction house where Ryan works, sold the sketch leaf for $120,000 at an auction last month.
The anonymous seller received $100,000 from that sale. The buyer, Ryan said, was an “important German autograph manuscript dealer.”
“It’s certainly one of the highlights of my career,” Ryan said. “For me, personally, Beethoven is an idol of mine. It’s like seeing pages by your favorite author in the flesh.”