Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820
Imagine being able to be among the first people ever to hear a forgotten piece of music for the first time in years. No, I’m not talking about another lost Jimi Hendrix demo. Think farther back… much farther back. As in centuries.
That’s right, a newly discovered and never before heard composition – at least not by anyone alive – from the one and only Ludwig Von Beethoven has been played for the first time at a British university on Thursday. Now that’s what you call old school!
According to Reuters, The two-minute long piece – which is an organ harmony to the 1,000-year old Gregorian hymn "Pange Lingua" – was discovered by University of Manchester Professor Barry Cooper while studying a copy of a 192-year-old Beethoven sketchbook.
"Other scholars looked at it without realizing what it was as it looks like a random collection of chords. When I looked at it I saw the series of chords and saw a tune there," Cooper told Reuters. "It's a Gregorian chant that I happen to know so I realized that he'd obviously harmonized the chant and produced a new composition."
Cooper says he believes the main reason why this particular Beethoven composition went so long without being noticed was because the famous composer did not include the words to the song or even the first line – which makes sense if you happen to know that this type of Gregorian chant is usually sung unaccompanied.
"And Beethoven specialists tend not to be specialists in plainsong hymns and specialists in Gregorian chant don't normally look at Beethoven sketches," Cooper added.
The professor goes on to explain that he believes the composition was written for a friend of the composer, Archduke Rudolph of Austria, who Beethoven had also penned the “Missa Solemnis” (Mass in D) when the archduke was promoted to archbishop circa 1820.
"The dates match up nicely,” said Cooper. “He transposed this Gregorian chant into an unusual key that fits well with his mass in D. It seems more than a coincidence.”
Cooper – who is a leading Beethoven expert in case you couldn’t tell – enlisted the help of a group of music students to perform the first ever rendition of the newly discovered piece at Manchester University in Northern England on Thursday afternoon (or Thursday morning for all of us here in the States).
When asked about the impact this will have on the legacy of the famous composer, Cooper simply said: "It doesn't turn the knowledge we have about him upside down but adds a little – and that is always interesting!”