Note: Sotheby's subsequently changed the code on their site, rendering my links useless. The main site is now here.
A helpful source pointed me to an upcoming auction of musical manuscripts at Sotheby's in London. The Sotheby's website shows sample pages from the 186 items on offer, and they give mesmerizing glimpses into composers' creative worlds. You can see Samuel Barber struggling to cut and revise his opera Antony and Cleopatra, which failed at the Met in 1967; Bela Bartok meticulously correcting the score of the Concerto for Orchestra a few months before his death; Debussy declaring his unfashionable devotion to "that which is naturally beautiful"; a 1622 edition of Monteverdi's Seventh Book of Madrigals; a curious signature by Leopold Mozart; the weirdly slanted handwriting of Max Reger; Schoenberg complaining about money; the manuscript of Sibelius' Night Ride and Sunrise; and Wagner's very friendly 1847 letter to his future enemy Eduard Hanslick, in which he has the following lively metaphor for the art of criticism: "Whether I read praise or censure regarding myself I always feel as though the reviewer had thrust his hand into my entrails." Ouch! He also says: "I am fully convinced that criticism is far more useful to an artist than praise: the artist who is destroyed by such criticism deserves to go under, — only the one whom such criticism encourages has any true strength...." Hanslick would shortly put that thought to the test. (Translation from Stewart Spencer and Barry Millington's Selected Letters of Richard Wagner.)
The most newsworthy item in the collection is Joseph Gregor's typescript
of the libretto for Richard Strauss' Daphne, with the composer's annotations in the margin. Strauss often formed precise musical ideas upon reading his librettos; this document promises to show how the lustrously beautiful music of Daphne blossomed in his brain, and, by extension, how his late style, the language of the Four Last Songs, arose. At least one Strauss scholar I know is agog at news of the sale. Gregor apparently sold off the typescript to help pay for a messy divorce, and no one has seen it for decades. Let's hope it ends up in responsible hands, preferably in a scholarly collection.