Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes – Lost and Found: Puccini at the Organ!

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post celebrated the premiere (on July 18, 2003) of a newly discovered piano work by Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Composed in late February/early March of 1917, Les Soirs illumines par l’ardeur du charbon (“the evenings lighted by the glow of the coals”) was, in fact, Debussy’s final piano work; he died of colorectal cancer a year later, on March 25, 1918.

(Yesterday’s post also discussed the initial Dead Sea Scroll discovery, in November 1946, just because. Because it was the grandmother of all manuscript discoveries! Because any other manuscript discovery made during the twentieth century shrinks to near insignificance by comparison and because, for me, the discovery of those scrolls will always boggle my bean!)

For our information, Debussy’s Les Soirs illumines. . . is not the only significant musical manuscript discovered in recent memory.

For example.

Where’s That Cello Concerto Been Haydn? (apologies)

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), by Ludwig Guttenbrum, painted circa 1791 but depicting Haydn as he presumably looked circa 1770
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), by Ludwig Guttenbrum, painted circa 1791 but depicting Haydn as he presumably looked circa 1770

For nearly 200 years, the musical community knew that Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) had composed his first cello concerto around the year 1765 for his great friend, the cellist Joseph Weigl. We “knew” this because Haydn himself kept meticulous records of the music he composed. Unfortunately, that’s all anyone knew about the concerto, because it had gone missing in the late 1760s and was long presumed lost.

And then.

In 1961, an archivist of the National Museum in Prague named Oldřich Pulkert, was going through a load of documents that had been collected from a chateau in the village of Radenín, roughly 53 miles south of Prague. What did Pulkert come across but a set of parts for a cello concerto, parts signed by the cellist Joseph Weigl, who had been the principal cellist under Joseph Haydn for the Esterházy court orchestra from 1761-1768.


The musicologist and Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon hailed the discovery as being:

“the single greatest musicological discovery since the Second World War.”

And that it was. Following its authentication, the concerto was performed for the first time in nearly 200 years, in May 1962. The soloist was the famed Czech cellist Miloš Sádlo.

The concerto has been a staple of the repertoire ever since.…

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