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Autograph (manuscript)

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The opening pages of the Konya manuscript of the Meccan Revelations, handwritten by Ibn Arabi in the 13th century[1]
"Préface" (preface) and "Choral inappétissant" (unsavoury chorale), first page of Satie's autograph of Sports et divertissements (dated 15 May 1914)

An autograph or holograph is a manuscript or document written in its author's or composer's hand. The meaning of "autograph" as a document penned entirely by the author of its content (as opposed to a typeset document or one written by a copyist or scribe other than the author) overlaps with that of "holograph".

Autograph manuscripts are studied by scholars (such as historians and paleographers), and can become collectable objects. Holographic documents have, in some jurisdictions, a specific legal standing.[not verified in body]

Related terms include archetype (the hypothesised form of an autograph), and protograph (the common ancestor of two closely-related witnesses which ultimately descended from the same autograph). For example, the Novgorodsko-Sofiysky Svod is the hypothetical protograph of the Novgorod Fourth Chronicle (NPL) and Sofia First Chronicle, both of which are extant textual witnesses of the lost archetype, the Primary Chronicle (PVL). A paradosis is a proposed best-reading, postulated when attempting to reconstruct the autograph.


According to The Oxford English Minidictionary, an autograph is, apart from its meaning as a signature, a "manuscript in the author's handwriting," while a holograph is a "(document) written wholly in the handwriting of the person in whose name it appears."[2]

In the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, Edward Maunde Thompson gives two common meanings of the word autograph as it applies to documents: "a document signed by the person from whom it emanates" and "one written entirely in the hand of such a person", noting that the latter is "more technically described as a holograph".[3]

Hippoliet Van Peene's autograph of the lyrics of "De Vlaamse Leeuw" (22 July 1845).[4]

In Webster's Third New International Dictionary, the definitions are:[5]

1: something that is written with one's own hand: a: an original handwritten manuscript (as of an author's or composer's work) ⟨valuable old ~s of Dickens⟩ [p. 147]
: a document (as a letter, deed, or will) wholly in the handwriting of the person from whom it proceeds and whose act it purports to be [p. 1081]

According to Stanley Boorman in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:[6]

A document written in the hand of the author or composer. This distinguishes it from the more commonly used word, Autograph, for the latter, strictly, means merely that the document is written by someone who can be named.[6]

Boorman describes the manuscripts handwritten by a composer as including holographs (copies of their own work) and autographs (copies of the works of other composers). He notes that this distinction is rarely made by "antiquarian dealers or auctioneers", but says that scribes and copyists often included other composers and so identifying them and their autographs can be useful for people studying their works.[6]

Beethoven's final score of his ninth symphony: partial autograph, of the "non-autograph copy with autograph corrections" type.[7]
In 2009 Uwe Wolf reported about the X-ray technology he had used on the (D-B) Mus.ms. Bach P 180 manuscript, to distinguish J. S. Bach's autograph[8] composition from later revisions by his son C. P. E.[9]

According to Yō Tomita [fr], writing in The Routledge Research Companion to Johann Sebastian Bach, "autograph" and "holograph" can be considered synonyms (i.e., a manuscript for which the writer is the author of the work), the former term being generally preferred in studies of manuscripts. Further, he writes that Bach's copies of compositions by other composers "should never be referred to as Bach's autographs, even if they are entirely in Bach's handwriting." He distinguishes two types of partial autographs: the first being written by a set of scribes, including the composer, the second being a copy made by a scribe other than the composer, to which the composer, in a later stage, applied editorial corrections and/or other modifications. According to Tomita, manuscripts of straightforward transcriptions should be referred to as "copy" or "transcription manuscript", while more convoluted arrangements should be referred to as an "autograph" rather than a "copy". In Bach scholarship, "original manuscript" refers to a score or performance parts written (by himself or his scribes) for the composer's own use.[8]

In what follows the terms "autograph" and "holograph" are used as quoted in the sources indicated by the footnoted references. When these sources only use a description, such as "in the author's handwriting" or "written in the hand of the author", then, following Webster's, "autograph" is used for a "manuscript (as of an author's or composer's work)" and "holograph" for a "document (as a letter, deed, or will)", and either of these terms only when the explicitly named scribe of the manuscript or document is also the creator of its content. For instance:

  • If the RISM page used as reference for the (D-B) Mus.ms. Bach P 180 manuscript describes that object as an "autograph" (by Johann Sebastian Bach), then that qualification is not changed to holograph: the context is clear, i.e. written and composed by J. S. Bach,[10] even if this handwritten score was, in 1786, partially altered and completed for performance by the composer's son C. P. E. Bach.[9]
  • In the second half of the 19th century, Wilhelm Rust compiled a score from a composite 18th-century manuscript, partially in J. S. Bach's hand, of the Jesus Christus ist um unsrer Missetat willen verwundet St Mark Passion. None of the available descriptions at the Bach Digital and RISM websites qualify either of these 18th- and 19th-century manuscripts as either autograph or holograph, nor by Bach, nor by Rust, but as versions of a work by another composer dubbed "Keiser".[11] The 18th-century manuscript can however be indicated as an "original source" according to the Bach Digital page on the Weimar version of this Passion.[12]

Autograph letters which are not in the handwriting of the person from whom they emanate, and perhaps only bear the signature of their author, such as in the Vatican usage of the term,[13] are not further considered in this article about autograph manuscripts.


An autograph fragment of Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, from the Cairo Geniza.[14]
Two pages from the Codex Leicester, a manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci.[15]
Emily Brontë's diary (26 June 1837).[16]
Lincoln's 1865 last address as president.[17]

Autograph text, with or without drawn illustrations, or calculations, remains from many authors, from different eras, including:

Middle Ages
17th century
18th century
19th century
20th century
21st century


Vivaldi's autograph of RV 314, displayed in the Buchmuseum (SLUB Dresden).[40]
Third page of Bach's autograph of the Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 906 (start of Fugue shown):[41] before the discovery of this manuscript in 1876, the Fugue could not be authenticated as Bach's.[42]
Mahler's autograph of his second symphony, sold for a record sum in 2016.[43]

Musical autographs exist in various stages of completion:[8]

  • Sketch, indicating musical ideas written down in the early stages of a composition process, often not more than a few bars of music (e.g. Schubert's D 309A and D 769A survived as autograph sketches).[44]
  • Draft, which can contain corrections, and is not necessarily a complete composition (e.g. the autograph of Schubert's D 840 is an incomplete draft of a four-movement piano sonata).[44]
  • Composing score (e.g. autograph composing scores survive for several of Bach's cantatas).[8]
  • Fair copy, written out clear enough to be used for performance or publication of the music. Fair copies are not necessarily written by the composer, but if the composer has some control over the process of copying, and possibly adds some corrections or completions in his own hand, the fair copy may still be considered an original source (e.g. Bach's partial autograph of the BWV 210 cantata is a fair copy which is considered an original source).[45][46] For pieces with multiple performers, apart from the score itself, also performance parts (i.e. sheet music for individual performers), may exist as autographs, as partial autographs or as copies by others, and would usually be fair copies although earlier stages of such parts may exist (e.g. D-Dl Mus. 2405-D-21 is a set of partial autograph performance parts of Bach's 1733 Mass for the Dresden court).[47]

Intermediate stages are possible, for instance Wagner's method of composition entailed several sketch and draft stages, and a first stage of the complete score (Partiturerstschrift) before the fair copy.[48] Other composers used fewer steps: for his cantatas, Bach apparently often started directly with the composing score (with some sketches and drafts written in that score while composing), without, in the end, always transferring such score to a fair copy.[8] Sometimes, however, he started with the transcription of an earlier work, which developed in a revision score, before being transferred to a fair copy.[8] Or otherwise, a revision manuscript could be turned into performance material for a rewritten work: D-B Mus.ms. Bach St 112 VI, Fascicle 1, a partially autograph bundle of performance parts for the last cantata of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, contains four parts which are revision versions originally written for an otherwise undocumented cantata (BWV 248 VI a).[49]

Sometimes a composer's autograph starts as a fair copy, continuing as a draft. For example, the Fantasia in the late 1730s autograph of Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 906, is a fair copy, but halfway through the (likely incomplete) Fugue the manuscript gradually shifts to a draft with several corrections.[41]


Scholarly studies of autographs can help in establishing authenticity or date of origin of a composition.[8][45] Autographs, and fair copies produced with the assistance of scribes, can also be studied to detect a composer's true intentions. For instance, John Tyrrell argued that Janáček's autograph score of his last opera was less authoritative as the final state of that opera than the fair copy by the composer's scribes, produced under his direction and with his corrections.[50]

As collectable object[edit]

Bach's autograph compositions are rarely available for private collectors: the bulk of his hundreds of extant autographs resides at the Berlin State Library, while only a fourth of 40 complete autograph manuscripts outside that collection are privately owned. One of such exceptional autographs, that came up for auction in 2016, fetched over £2.5m.[51]

Ludwig van Beethoven's autographs have, since a few months after the composer's death in 1827, been sold for considerable prices at auctions.[52] Beethoven's autograph of the Große Fuge (version for four hands) sold for £1.1m at Sotheby's in 2005.[53] In November 2016 the autograph score of a Mahler symphony sold for £4,546,250: no autograph symphony had ever sold for a higher price.[43]

Holographic documents[edit]

A holograph is a document written entirely in the handwriting of the person whose signature it bears. Some countries (e.g. France) or local jurisdictions within certain countries (e.g. some U.S. states) give legal standing to specific types of holographic documents, generally waiving requirements that they be witnessed. One of the most important types of such documents are holographic last wills.

In fiction, The Ardua Hall Holograph, handwritten by Aunt Lydia, plays a central role in Margaret Atwood's novel, The Testaments (2019).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hirtenstein, Stephen. the Master's hand : a preliminary study of Ibn 'Arabi's holographs and autographs. OCLC 1049200830.
  2. ^ Hawkins, Joyce M. (ed.), 1994. The Oxford English Minidictionary, Revised Third Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 29 and 243. ISBN 0-19-861310-5
  3. ^ Thompson, Edward Maunde (1911). "Autographs" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 45–47.
  4. ^ "De Vlaemsche leeuw". lib.ugent.be. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  5. ^ Gove, Philip B. (ed.), 1981. Webster's Third New International Dictionary. ISBN 0-87779-206-2
  6. ^ a b c Boorman, Stanley (2001). "Holograph". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. 11 (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan.
  7. ^ Kennedy, Maev (8 April 2003). "Beethoven's Ninth manuscript could fetch £3m". The Guardian.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Tomita, Yo (2016). "3. Manuscripts". In Leaver, Robin A. (ed.). The Routledge Research Companion to Johann Sebastian Bach. Taylor & Francis. pp. 47–88. ISBN 9781315452807.
  9. ^ a b RISM 467018000
  10. ^ (D-B) Mus.ms. Bach P 180 at Berlin State Library website
  11. ^ D-B Mus.ms. 11471/1 and D-B Mus.ms. D-B N.Mus.ms. 10624 at Bach Digital website; RISM 452028310
  12. ^ Passion pasticcio "Jesus Christus ist um unsrer Missetat willen verwundet" (Marks Passion, Weimar version) BNB I/K/1 (Weimarer Fassung); BWV deest; BC D 5a at Bach Digital website
  13. ^ John Paul II. 25 December 2001. "AUTOGRAPH LETTER OF JOHN PAUL II TO BISHOP LICINIO RANGEL AND THE SONS OF THE UNION OF ST JOHN MARY VIANNEY OF CAMPOS, BRAZIL" at the website of the Holy See. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  14. ^ "Cairo Genizah : Philosophy". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 21 February 2023.
  15. ^ a b "Leonardo: the Codex Leicester" at Chester Beatty website.
  16. ^ "Emily Brontë's diary paper, 1837" at British Library website. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  17. ^ a b "LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph manuscript of HIS LAST ADDRESS as President, delivered in Washington D.C. from the window of the White House on the evening of 11 April 1865". Christie's. 27 March 2002. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  18. ^ Pastore, Graziella (2015). Roccati, Giovanni Matteo (ed.). "Medieval Autograph Manuscripts. Proceedings of the xviith Colloquium of the Comité International de Paléographie Latine, edited by Nataša Golob". Studi Francesi. Rassegna bibliografica Medioevo (in Italian). LIX (III (177)). Rosenberg & Sellier: 557. doi:10.4000/studifrancesi.1217. ISSN 0039-2944.
  19. ^ Reformation 500: Luther autograph on display – Bodleian Oxford 30 Oct – 3rd Nov 2017 at ILAB website. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  20. ^ https://www.autographauctions.co.uk/0075-lot-343-RICHELIEU-CARDINAL-1585-1642-Armand-Jean-du-Plessis-Duke-of-Richelieu-and-Fronsac-French-Clergy?auction_id=0&view=lot_detail at International Autograph Auctions website. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  21. ^ Autograph poem by Dryden on the death of Oliver Cromwell at British Library website. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  22. ^ OCLC 1724026
  23. ^ Parrott, Andrew (May 2010). "Bach's chorus: the Leipzig line – A response to Andreas Glöckner". Early Music. 38 (2). Oxford University Press: 223–235. doi:10.1093/em/caq038. JSTOR 40731351.
  24. ^ Christoph Wolff. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-393-04825-X
  25. ^ VOLTAIRE, FRANCOIS-MARIE AROUET. 1694–1778. Autograph Manuscript, being a portion of the original manuscript of Therese at Bonhams website. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  26. ^ Tokoo, Tatsuo (2002). A Catalogue and Index of the Shelley Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and a General Index to the Facsimile Edition of the Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, Volumes I–XXII. The Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts. Vol. XXIII. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780815311584.
  27. ^ "Austen, Jane: AUTOGRAPH DRAFT MANUSCRIPT OF HER UNFINISHED NOVEL 'THE WATSONS'". www.sothebys.com. Sotheby's. 14 July 2011. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  28. ^ Anne Brontë, Patrick Branwell, and Emily Jane Brontë: Autograph manuscripts and letters at Morgan Library & Museum website.
  29. ^ "BRONTË, Charlotte (1816–1855): Autograph letter signed ('C Brontë') to D[avid] Waldie, Gloucester Terrace, London, 19 January (1853)". Christie's. 10 July 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  30. ^ "Manifeste du surréalisme: Manuscrit autographe (Lorient-Paris, juillet-août 1924)". www.sothebys.com. Sotheby's. 21 May 2008. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  31. ^ Lendvai, Ernő. 1971. Béla Bartók: An Analysis of His Music, introduced by Alan Bush. London: Kahn & Averill. ISBN 0-900707-04-6 OCLC 240301.
  32. ^ Somfai, László (1996). "'Plans' and 'calculations'?". Bela Bartok: Composition, Concepts, and Autograph Sources. University of California Press. pp. 80–82. ISBN 9780520914612.
  33. ^ "EINSTEIN, Albert (1879-1955). Autograph letter signed ("A. Einstein") to Eric Gutkind, Princeton, 3 January 1954". Christie's. 4 December 2018. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  34. ^ "CRICK, Francis Harry Compton (1916–2004). Autograph Letter Signed ("Daddy") to his son Michael, outlining the revolutionary discovery of the structure and function of DNA. Cambridge, 19 March 1953". Christie's. 10 April 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  35. ^ Drout, Michael D. C. (1 March 2006). "Towards a better Tolkien criticism". In Eaglestone, Robert (ed.). Reading The Lord of the Rings: New Writings on Tolkien's Classic. A & C Black. pp. 15–28. ISBN 9780826484604.
  36. ^ "TOLKIEN, J.R.R. (1892-1973). Autograph manuscript, headed The Lord of the Rings III". Christie's. 4 December 2018. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  37. ^ "TOLKIEN, J.R.R. Autograph letter signed (J.R.R. Tolkien), to Nancy Smith. Oxford, Christmas Day 1963". Christie's. 24 May 2002. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  38. ^ "Bob Dylan: Original working autograph manuscript of "Like a Rolling Stone" – the final draft lyrics as recorded (June, 1965)". www.sothebys.com. Sotheby's. 24 June 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  39. ^ "Rowling, J.K. AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF THE TALES OF BEEDLE THE BARD TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL RUNES BY J.K. ROWLING". www.sothebys.com. Sotheby's. 13 December 2007. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  40. ^ Mus.2389-O-70 at SLUB website; RISM 212000174
  41. ^ a b D-Dl Mus. 2405-T-52 at Bach Digital website.
  42. ^ Forkel, Johann Nikolaus; Terry, Charles Sanford (1920). Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art and Work – translated from the German, with notes and appendices. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe. p. 127.
  43. ^ a b Hann, Michael (29 November 2016). "Mahler's second symphony manuscript sells for record £4.5m". The Guardian.
  44. ^ a b Deutsch, Otto Erich; et al. (Walther Dürr, Arnold Feil, Christa Landon [de] and Werner Aderhold) (1978). Franz Schubert: Thematisches Verzeichnis seiner Werke in chronologischer Folge. New Schubert Edition, Series VIII: Supplement (in German). Vol. 4. Kassel: Bärenreiter. ISBN 9783761805718. ISMN 9790006305148.
  45. ^ a b Dürr, Alfred (1971). Die Kantaten von Johann Sebastian Bach (in German). Vol. 1. Bärenreiter-Verlag. OCLC 523584.
  46. ^ Bach Digital Work 00265, Bach Digital Source 2401
  47. ^ Bach Digital Source 2721; RISM 212000569.
  48. ^ Darcy, Warren (1993). Das Rheingold. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816603-6.
  49. ^ D-B Mus.ms. Bach St 112 VI, Fascicle 1 at Bach Digital website
  50. ^ Tyrrell, John (1980). "The definitive score of 'From the House of the Dead'". Janáček: From the House of the Dead (Media notes). Decca. p. 18. 430 375–2.
  51. ^ "BACH, Johann Sebastian (1685–1750): Autograph music manuscript, titled and signed in autograph Prelude [-- Fuga – Allegro] pour la Luth. ò Cembal. Par J.S. Bach, for the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro for lute or keyboard in E-flat major, BWV 998, n.d. (c.1735–1740)". Christie's. 13 July 2016. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  52. ^ Stroh, Patricia (March 2007). "Beethoven in the Auction Market: A Twenty-Year Review". Notes. II. 63 (3). Music Library Association: 533–564. doi:10.1353/not.2007.0043. JSTOR 4487822. S2CID 192468809.
  53. ^ Honigsbaum, Mark (2 December 2005). "Beethoven manuscript fetches £1.1m". The Guardian.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]