The ‘Frankenberger’s’ fortunes

Submitted by admin on Thu, 12/12/2019 - 22:09
Briefkaart in het Scheurleer-archief, NMI.

In all, there are five Walther manuscript volumes, containing exclusively chorale settings. Besides the ‘Frankenberger' in The Hague, there are three manuscripts in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek; the fifth was located in the Königsberg Universitätsbibliothek, but has been missing since 1937. It is available only in photographic reproductions. The manuscript in the collection of the NMI is traditionally known as Frankenbergersches Autograph.

The term ‘Autograph' may be considered a misnomer (most compositions being copies in Walther's hand of works by other composers); the name ‘Frankenberger' derives from the first known owner of the manuscript, Heinrich Friedrich Frankenberger (1824-1885), Hofmusicus in Sondershausen. His signature will be found on the empty first page of the manuscript. While in possession of Frankenberger, the manuscript served as a source for Philipp Spitta's 1878 edition of Buxtehude's chorale settings, and for August Gottfried Ritter's study of the history of organ playing (Zur Geschichte des Orgelspiels, 1884).

Probably after Frankenberger's death the manuscript disappeared into an English private collection. In 1901 it was listed in an auction catalogue of the Berlin antiquarian music dealer Leo Liepmannssohn. The musicologist Max Seiffert, an authority on Sweelinck and the German organ tradition, was anxious to keep the manuscript on his side of the Atlantic. In a letter dated December 11, 1901 he alerted the banker, music historian and collector Daniel François Scheurleer in The Hague to the upcoming sale:

Liepm. estimates the volume's proceeds at 400-500 marks. In relation to its historical value that is not a lot, but it exceeds my book budget. I fear therefore that this beautiful object will disappear across the water, like so many others - and we come off empty-handed. My only hope is that the manuscript's importance will arouse sufficient interest for you to interceed.[1]

At the auction on January 20, 1902 Seiffert managed to purchase the manuscript for Scheurleer's collection at the price of 305 marks (and 15,25 mark-up), as he jubilantly reported to his correspondent:

Now I am even more happy that it will be included in your library; for it is the most comprehensive and best preserved among the 5 Walther volumes. Accept my warmest gratitude for your intervention! [...] The contents should provide us with an interesting musical pastime.[2]

That it entered Scheurleer's private collection meant that it was available not just to the owner (and to Seiffert), but to a wider circle of musical researchers. As Joost van Gemert has noted,

This liberal attitude was very typical of Daniel François Scheurleer, who promoted music and culture in whatever way he could and made his collection widely accessible, not only receiving many visitors but also regularly lending out his precious possessions in good faith, as is proven by correspondence in his archive.

He continues with an anecdote that should horrify modern librarians:

There is, for example, a very curious postcard (not dated, but probably 1914) sent by André Pirro from the front of World War I, in which Pirro reports that he had the Frankenberger autograph (which he had borrowed from Scheurleer) with him during active service as a soldier in the summer of 1914, but that both he and the Frankenberger autograph were now safe.[3]

After Scheurleer's death in 1927 his collections were kept by his son, until the bankruptcy of the firm of Scheurleer & Sons in 1932 forced him to sell. The collections were then acquired by City of The Hague and accommodated in the Gemeentemuseum (Municipal Museum). Since 2000 the Scheurleer Collection is one of the core components of the collections of the Netherlands Music Institute.


  1. "Liepm. schätzt den Auctionsertrag des Bandes auf 400-500 Mk. Das ist dem geschichtlichen Wert nach nicht viel, nur meinem Bücherbudget nicht angemessen. So fürchte ich, geht das schöne Ding wie manches Andere übers Wasser; wir gucken hinterdrein. Meine einzige Hoffnung ist, daß die Handschrift wegen ihrer Bedeutung Ihr Interesse erweckt und Sie zum Einschreiten veranlaßt." Letter in the Scheurleer Archive, NMI; quoted by J. van Gemert: Early Sources for the Music of J. S.Bach in Dutch Collections, in Tijdschrift van de Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis 50/1-2, 2000, p. 102
  2. "Jetzt freue ich mich noch mehr, daß er in Ihre Biliothek kommt; denn er ist der reichhaltigste und am besten erhaltene unter den 5 Walther bänden [sic]. Haben Sie herzlichsten Dank für Ihr Eintreten! [...] Der Inhalt soll uns einmal ein interessantes Musikstündchen verschaffen." ib., p.103
  3. ib; postcard in Scheurleer Archive, NMI. André Pirro (1869-1943) was a French organist and musicologist, professor of music history at the Sorbonne, and author of books on Bach and Buxtehude.