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In the hands of the masters

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In today's paper I got to interview Dr. David Karpeles, who owns the famous Karpeles Collection we get to glimpse in our local Karpeles manuscript libraries (one is on North at Elmwood; the other farther west, on Porter near Kleinhans). Talking with Dr. Karpeles was a thrill for me because I have wanted to talk to him for a long time.

It was funny, all I did was call him up, without an appointment, and he was sitting there all ready to talk. I love that in a person.

The reason I have been wanting to talk with Dr. Karpeles is because his manuscript collection is the biggest in the world and his music collection, in particular, makes me dizzy. It is almost inconceivable to think of owning the original manuscript of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto, the Nocturne from Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" or a few pages from Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro." By the way, that is a Mozart manuscript pictured up above, a picture I found online. Can anyone figure out what piece it is? I am going to try to find out.

Once when I was in London I visited the British Museum and saw, in a case, the little notebook Mozart used to keep where he jotted down a few measures of every piece of music he finished. It was like a kind of diary. I imagined it kicking around his desk, under the bed, wherever. I got tears in my eyes.

I got to talk to Dr. Karpeles about that and he laughed in understanding and empathy. I was very interested in what he had to say about why Mozart is so expensive. It goes according to supply and demand. So many people love Mozart, and he lived over 200 years ago, which drives up the price, too. Plus so many of his individual pieces are well known.  "He wrote a lot of common pieces, pieces you recognize," Dr. Karpeles pointed out.

One of the odder gems of the Karpeles collection is Beethoven's handwritten copy of Handel's "Messiah." Beethoven saw things in "Messiah" he could learn from, and so he copied it all out, note for note. That was a way musicians of that era used to learn from each other. You would feel the notes under your fingers.

I would love to see that "Messiah!" I would rather see that one than Handel's original. 

Maybe one of these days we will be able to. That is a point I tried to make in the story. If people show enough interest in a major music exhibit, Dr. Karpeles would send us one. And a good proportion of those manuscripts would be the originals. I learned a lot in our conversation about how this business works, and it's extremely expensive and risky and complicated to ship these priceless manuscripts. For a major exhibit, though, they do their best.

Let's raise our voices.

It could happen!

-- Mary Kunz Goldman


 

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