A professional appraiser, he recently visited the home of a Greenwich woman who was looking to sell some belongings, when his eyes lit on a yellowing sheet of music behind glass, stippled with notes.
More than just a musical composition, the sheet was ferociously dotted with German words, directions and symbols that practically flew off the page with manic intensity.
“When I saw it I knew what it was. I’d seen his handwriting before,” said Ryan, who works for Butterscotch Auction Gallery in Bedford, N.Y.
A musician himself, Ryan had been obsessed with Ludwig van Beethoven as a younger man. Standing in the Greenwich home on a late summer afternoon, he was all but certain the music he was looking at had been penned by the great composer.
“I’ve been in a lot of homes and seen hundreds of things, but this will be one of the most memorable moments of my career,” he said.
He managed to keep his professional composure while perusing the possessions of the Greenwich woman, whose identity is not being disclosed by the auction house, until he was outside.
“I called my wife when I got into my car, I think I was bouncing off the walls,” said Ryan.
The sheet music went from being a curio in a Greenwich home to a $100,000 windfall when it sold at auction last month. For music scholars, it’s become an exciting addition to the Beethoven canon.
But before all that could happen, some detective work needed to be carried out. Was it really a sheet of Beethoven composition that graced a Greenwich home for decades, and if so, to which work did it belong?
“The woman who owned it knew it was valuable — but how valuable? That’s our job, to see what people have. It’s like ‘Antiques Roadshow,’” Ryan said, referring to the PBS television program.
Ryan called his old musical mentor and professor at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., Mel Comberiati. As a Fulbright scholar in Vienna, Professor Comberiati had studied old Beethoven manuscripts.
He was able to come up with the exact work, written in 1810, to which the sheet music in question was connected. The page came from the sketchbook the composer used for brainstorming.
“Beethoven would write out his ideas. With most composers, we just have the final product — they threw the rest out. Beethoven didn’t throw anything out,” Comberiati said, “I found the sketchbook, and referenced the exact piece, we put it all together.”

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