Wednesday, May 25, 2011

For sale: Britten in the buff

A tip-off from Alex Ross about some of the treasures on sale in Sotheby's next Music and Continental Books and Manuscripts sale has revealed that Lot no.223 includes "Six Unpublished Photographs of the Naked Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears". They were taken in 1939 on Long Island and apparently show the composer swimming with Aaron Copland and others. I wish this was a more exciting prospect, but...well, just look at him. No wonder he didn't want to stick around in the UK to fight the Nazis. (Has anybody got one of the deshabillé Franz Liszt, by any chance...?)

But the auction is well worth exploring if you've got a five-figure sum or two to spare. It's offering, amongst much else, some valuable letters from Chopin to the cellist Auguste Franchomme, some pages of manuscript of Strauss's Capriccio and a first edition score of Mahler's Third Symphony with corrections in the composer's own hand (someone must have thought the double anniversary a jolly good moment for this to go under the auctioneer's hammer - and its estimated sales figure is between 100,000 and 150,000. Norman is curious too...). Still, after browsing the splendid online catalogue, I would spend my fantasy ££££s on Mendelssohn's characterful watercolour painting of the Amalfi coast. The Italian Symphony made visible? Have a dekko - it's Lot 303.

The auction is taking place in London on 8 June.