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Music Department

Beethoven Collection

From the very beginning Beethoven was impressively represented: The acquisition of Georg Poelchau's comprehensive music collection by the Königliche Bibliothek (Royal Library) in 1842 inspired the creation of a separate music department; among the collection's numerous treasures was the autograph of the Kyrie from Missa solemnis. Especially the acquisition of the Beethoven estate from Anton Schindler in 1846 really laid the foundation stone for the Berlin Beethoven Collection. The collection was then set up and consequently expanded by acquiring both complete collections with a high proportion of Beethoven-related items and single manuscripts. At the beginning of the new century the collection of the Vienna family-owned publishing house Artaria could also be transferred to Berlin. The series of great Beethoven acquisitions was successfully crowned by the Ernst von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy foundation. Thus, manuscript treasures, collected by the family, were bequeathed to the Königliche Bibliothek in 1908.

In the course of a few decades half of the extant original manuscripts of Beethoven's works could be brought together in Berlin, including symphonies nos. 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9, the piano concerts nos. 1-3 and 5, the opera Leonore / Fidelio and the Missa solemnis (to name only these) - a remarkably high proportion of "great works". A total of not less than 100 compositions from all creative periods are represented by autographs and manuscripts with autograph parts. The collection is complemented by a stock of several thousand pages of sketches and numerous work copies, which were created at very different times as well as on very different occasions.

The so-called conversation books play a pre-eminent role as biographical sources. Beginning in 1818 and in use until Beethoven's death, these books document the "conversations", which the deaf composer conducted with visitors and in familiar circles, thereby using paper and pen.

Among the numerous original letters there is Beethoven's famous letter to the "Immortal Beloved", whose identity researchers have not yet been able to establish with complete certainty.

Evacuations of holdings during World War II and the division of Germany after the war led to the division of the former Prussian State Library's holdings. Only in the wake of German reunification and the merging of the two Berlin State libraries (East and West) into one institution, the divided Beethoven collections could also be reunited. To date that part of the holdings which during the war had been brought to Silesia has not yet returned. It is currently preserved in the Krakauer Universitätsbibliothek (Jagiellonian Library) and there it is available for research. This includes, i.a., the autographs of the Seventh Symphony and the third movement of the Eighth Symphony. These holdings continue to be regarded - according to the German viewpoint - as property of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. Since 1991 the German government has been negotiating their return with the Polish government. In connection with a state visit in 1977 Poland returned from Kraków to East Berlin some selected master manuscripts, including the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven and his Third Piano Concerto.

In September 2001 the autograph of the Ninth Symphony was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. To mark the occasion the digitised manuscript was published on the internet and since then has been freely accessible worldwide.


The Berlin Beethoven Collection (without the parts held in Kraków) has been catalogued in two descriptive catalogues. During the Division of Germany this cataloguing was undertaken separately for the two parts of the collection in the State Libraries Berlin (West) and Berlin (East):

Bartlitz, Eveline: Die (Ludwig van) Beethoven-Sammlung in der Musikabteilung der Deutschen Staatsbibliothek. Verzeichnis der Autographe, Abschriften, Dokumente, Briefe, Berlin 1970.

Klein, Hans-Günter: Ludwig van Beethoven. Autographe und Abschriften. Katalog, Berlin 1975 (Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Kataloge der Musikabteilung, Erste Reihe: Handschriften, 2).

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Dr. Martina Rebmann

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