You are going to read an article written by Geoffrey Norris. For each question, choose the answer which you think fits best according to the text.

The manuscript of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony was missing for almost 100 years until it was discovered in a cellar in Switzerland. Our chief music critic Geoffrey Norris, a leading authority on the composer, was the first expert to authenticate it.

It had all the makings of a cloak and dagger mystery. Six weeks ago, a surprise e-mail popped up here in the office from someone who said they had possibly found the manuscript of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, the whereabouts of which have been unknown for close on a century. The music is familiar enough from the published score of 1908, but the composer’s manuscript was lost. In all the 30 years or so that I have been working on Rachmaninov, nothing like this has ever happened, mainly because nearly all his manuscripts are accounted for. But this stray one, so the message went, had been discovered in a cellar in French Switzerland. 

Scepticism crept in. It all seemed very hush-hush, with lots of anonymity and no addresses. There was a risk that this was going to turn out to be the musical equivalent of the “Hitler Diaries”, a hoax of Herculean proportions. But the man who had written to me had seen my book on Rachmaninov, knew I was also chief music critic of The Daily Telegraph, and thought I would be the right specialist to examine the manuscript and authenticate it. Caution was thrown to the wind, and I wrote back suggesting a meeting.

The nature of the trip involved actually made things easier, even more romantic: the long journey on the Trans-Alpine Express from Italy to Switzerland brought a certain Agatha Christie-like frisson to the whole enterprise, as if I was a character in one of her murder mystery thrillers. My destination was a small, quiet Swiss railway station, where I had agreed to meet my contact and then look the manuscript over in a bank, assuming this was where it was being stored. Not so. The man who met me off the train was carrying a plastic Co-op carrier bag. Hidden within it was the very manuscript of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. Moreover, it was unquestionably genuine. During our alfresco lunch after the visit to the bank, the supermarket bag remained propped up next to the table. Sotheby’s in London, who are auctioning the manuscript on December 7, have now put an estimate on it of £300,000–£500,000. It was sheer good luck that nobody of a criminal frame of mind realised that the Co-op could proffer such riches.

There is an indescribable thrill about seeing a manuscript that has been lost for so long. Nearly all the ones of the works Rachmaninov wrote before 1917 are now in the archives of the Glinka Museum in Moscow; the Third Piano Concerto has found its way to the British Library; and the bulk of the material relating to the music he wrote after emigrating to the West in 1917 is in the Library of Congress in Washington. But the Second Symphony somehow slipped through the net. Perhaps the composer gave it away, as he did with the Third Concerto. It is certainly one of a minuscule number to have remained in private hands, and is one of Rachmaninov’s biggest scores, at well over 300 pages long. The first four pages of music have at some stage become detached and are missing, as is a title page—hence, perhaps, the fact that it has remained unidentified for so long. Most of the final page, on which there might have been a date and signature, has also gone astray. But the handwriting, the paper and the manner in which Rachmaninov made corrections—all are as they should be.

This is the most important Rachmaninov manuscript ever to come on to the open market. It is his most widely played and popular orchestral work, completed in 1907 in Dresden, where he had taken a house to concentrate on composition, away from duties and disturbances that were consuming his time back in Russia. The symphony was then prepared for publication from the very manuscript that has just come to light. Quite apart from the score’s potential monetary value, its significance for musicians and scholars is priceless, because, with the hundreds of emendations, crossings-out and annotations that Rachmaninov made on the manuscript, it gives clues to his earlier thoughts on the symphony, possibly revised in the light of performances he conducted in Moscow and St Petersburg before publication. The hope now is that an accessible library buys it. Nobody wants it to disappear again for another 100 years.

Treasure-trove for students: the lost manuscript


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