Autograph Collectors of the Past: Louis Koch May 07 2022

Autograph collectors are what keeps the hobby alive, and sometimes their collections become so vast and important, that they can make a mark in history as keepers of valuable historical documents and photos.

Louis Koch (1862-1932) was a true Renaissance man with a profound appreciation for beauty in any form. As a jeweler by trade, he stood at the head of a house with a worldwide reputation for quality, he occupied great stature in the high society of Frankfurt, Germany, and he owned an impressive private collection of rings.

Louis Koch - Legendary autograph collector

His interests extended beyond jewelry into literature, faience pottery, painting, and other areas of culture. However, his love of classical music stands out, as Louis Koch amassed an incredible collection of musical autographed manuscripts in his lifetime.

[IMAGE] Louis Koch - Legendary autograph collector

After a meeting with the esteemed autograph collector Stefan Zweig in February 1925, Louis Koch set about commissioning talented specialists to help prepare his comprehensive catalog. His collaboration with Dr. Georg Kinsky was particularly important, as the doctor spent two years describing the autographs in Louis Koch's collection.

By bringing together the diverse talents of several individuals, Louis Koch elevated his private collection of musical autographs into an expertly-arranged catalog of vast historical importance. By the time he died in 1932, Louis Koch could consider the construction of his catalog complete.



While Louis Koch's collection began from humble beginnings, it didn't remain so. In particular, he collected a wide range of autographs in Dessau and Frankfurt. Early in the 1920s, he successfully acquired the collection of Siegfried Ochs. Ochs was the director of the Berlin Philharmonic Choir, and his collection held the reputation of being the greatest in Germany. This windfall brought many gems into the Louis Koch collection, including:

  • The cantata "God, Like Your Name," by Bach

  • The opening part of Handel's so-called Hero Cantata (Rome 1707)

  • Handel's only letter written in German (London 1731)

  • A fragment of the opera "Der Schauspieldirektor" by Mozart (Vienna 1786)

  • Elements each from Beethoven's Piano Sonata in A major, op 101, and the "Scheider-Kakadu"

  • Weber's concert piece, op. 79, and the piano transcription of the overture to "Oberon"

  • The complete song cycle "Die Winterreise" by Schubert and his last three piano sonatas (with the B flat major sonata as the final piece)

While this acquisition was a windfall for his illustrious collection, many gems originated from other sources. These acquisitions included:

  • The trio "Se tu non lasci amore" by Handel (Naples 1708)

  • The Paris E flat major- Symphony by Haydn

  • The melodrama from "Fidelio" and the Diabelli Variations

  • Op. 120, by Beethoven

  • The music album of Princess Marie Wittgenstein with Wagner's entry of Wotan's farewell from the final scene of "Valkyrie" (1856)

  • Pages from the Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms. Brahms completed the set of 21 dance tunes in 1879, each of which draws on Hungarian cultural themes.


Beethoven Sonata no.28 op 101 (1816)

Manuscript of Beethoven's Sonata no.28 Op.101 (1816)

Other very important and significant mentions that are part of his manuscript include musicians whose passion lies in the Romantic period (the defining period for orchestral works). Key examples include Felix Mendelssohn, Hector Berlioz, Franz Lachner (whose work was influenced by Ludwig van Beethoven and his friend Schubert), Frederic Chopin, Otto Nicolai, etc.

Over time, the Koch autographed manuscript collection grew to such an extent as to almost defy description. It ultimately included documents from almost every notable composer for two centuries, beginning with a series of classical masters such as Alessandro Scarlatti, Bach, Handel, Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart.

From there, it continues with examples such as Beethoven, Weber, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Richard Strauss before proceeding onto Louis Koch's contemporaries.



This vast collection had too many important works to count, but some stand out even among such distinguished company. A few of these collection highlights are:

[389 - Mozart's Sonata Nr.3]

This autograph hails from Mozart's third Sonata, which he wrote in 1774 during the visit to Munich for the production of "La finta giardiniera" (an Italian-language opera written by Mozart when he was only 18 years old). A piano sonata in three movements: Allegro, Andante amoroso e Rondo (allegro). The typical play lasts 14 minutes.

Another Mozart example is a fragment from "Der Schauspieldirektor", K. 486. This piece was comedic opera set to a German libretto by Gottlieb Stephanie. This opera has its origin in the imperial command of the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, who commissioned the tune for a private luncheon. The play satirizes the vanity of singers, casting its characters in petty arguments over payment and status.

Mozart Manuscript

Fragment of Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor

[383, 384 - Handel's letter that was written in London 1731]

The only letter Handel wrote in German, speaking to his brother-in-law Michaelsen and thanking him for "the care that you have taken in burying my Mother according to her last wishes". He continues expressing his sadness and the way he couldn't stop his tears from falling and encouragingly seeks to reunite with her in the afterlife.

Handel letter written in London 1731 - Front

Handel letter written in London 1731 - Verso

Front and verso of Handel's letter written in London, 1731

Winterreise by Franz Schubert is a song cycle for voice and piano. It draws its setting from a set of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller, and represents his second song cycle with this inspiration. The previous work was (D. 795, Op. 25, 1823).

[388 - Mozart's Sonata for violin and piano in E flat composed in 1781]

This autograph is part of the Sonata in E flat, which comes from a particularly important juncture of Mozart's career. It represents the last sonata of four, possibly five sonatas for violin and piano Mozart wrote in 1781, the year in which he chose to start a career as a freelance musician in Vienna.

It is the first work of his "mature sonatas" that later on expanded and transformed the trajectory of his success. Mozart originally wrote both for tenor voice, but Schubert set the precedent of transporting them to alternative vocal ranges.

Mozart Sonata for Violin and Piano

Mozart's Sonata for violin and piano in E flat (1781)

[394 - Beethoven's Sonata no.28]

This page comes from Beethoven's Op. 101, which he wrote in 1816. He dedicated the piece to the pianist Baroness Dorothea Ertmann, née Graumen. This sonata marks the beginning of Beethoven entering his final period, with more complex ideas, forms, and motifs.

If you want to learn more about Koch's world-famous collection, you can refer to Musikautographen-Sammlung Louis Koch. While you'll need a working understanding of German, the book provides rich insight into this incredible autograph collection and the man who assembled it. This fantastic collection was eventually auctioned and sold very long time ago, we don't know the buyer/s.



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