Hundreds of handwritten scores from Beethoven repaired and displayed in The British Library

11 February 2022
By Ellie Palmer
The incredible collection includes scribbles he wrote during his childhood, first drafts of symphonies and even sketches of his much-loved Pastoral Symphony

The British Library in London has restored and repaired a fascinating collection of Ludwig Van Beethoven's rough compositional works. The sketchbook is currently on display at the library as part of the Beethoven Exhibition, which runs until 24 April 2022.

The repairs, which have been completed by British Library Collection Care, were a delicate process due to the fragility of the book. The Library explains the process on its Twitter page: "Here is [the sketchbook] open. Do you see how each sheet of paper is mounted on a small stub of paper?"

© Zoe Miller/British Library


"We call this volume the ‘Kafka’ sketch miscellany," they continue. "Why? Because a guy call Johann Nepomuk *Kafka* bought lots of random manuscripts in the 19th century. Pages from Beethoven’s childhood are included here, as well as sketches for his play ‘The Ruin of Athens’."

© British Library Board


"Due to the fragile paper and the ink that eats itself (you read it right – self-eating ink!), we risked losing Beethoven’s annotations. So the British Library Collection Care set to work. Here’s one fragile page they found."

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© Zoe Miller/British Library


"What happened next you ask? Well, the question should be ‘what didn’t happen’. Our colleagues undertook paper repairs as well as created support pages with archival paper and fine Japanese tissue."

 © Zoe Miller/British Library


Elsewhere in the Beethoven exhibition, you can find:

  • Ninth Symphony manuscript Beethoven sent to the Philharmonic Society in London in 1824
  • Handwritten kitchen accounts giving a personal insight into Beethoven’s diet, living standards and household management, on public display for the first time
  • The earliest known draft of a symphonic movement by Beethoven, Sinfonia in C minor, which has been realised for string quartet by Annette Isserlis, founder-member of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
  • Tuning fork that Beethoven presented to British violinist George Bridgetower in 1803
  • Pocket sketchbook made by Beethoven to note down musical ideas when out walking, which dates from 1825 and contains sketches for the String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 130
  • A bespoke audio-visual installation, which uses bone conduction technology to present Beethoven’s music in the form of vibrations and provide a physical, visceral experience of music for both hearing and non-hearing audiences


Want to check out the exhibition? Full price tickets are £8, while members can visit for free. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Main image: © Zoe Miller/British Library