Big bucks for Bach manuscript

The original manuscript for JS Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-flat Major (BWV 998) has been sold for a truly astonishing GBP2.5m (€2.9m) at auction. It was originally bought in 1968 for just GBP5,500 – around GBP86,000 in today’s money (adjusted for inflation).

The privately-owned manuscript had not been seen in public since 1969, but was exhibited in Hamburg, Munich, Dusseldorf, New York and Japan prior to the auction on 13 July at Christie’s in London. The composition for keyboard and flute was written sometime between 1740 and 1745.

Intact Bach manuscripts are rather rare, thanks to the fact that Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach sold them piecemeal to pay off various debts. Now most of Bach’s works exist only in copy form, meaning that even his autograph on its own is highly valued by collectors.

‘It’s amazing to see this manuscript and know that it was the musician himself who wrote it,’ said musician Jakob Lindberg, who examined it on behalf of Christie’s. ‘I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when he was composing it.’

It is believed that less than 10 complete Bach manuscripts are currently in private hands, while the rest belong to museums and other public institutions.

The high price paid for this piece has led some to speculate that an upcoming sale of the original manuscript for Mahler’s Second Symphony at Sotherby’s this November could break all known records.