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Lost Beethoven hymn uncovered, performed for first time in 192 years

A lost work by Ludwig van Beethoven was performed for what could have been the first time at the University of Manchester in northern England on Thursday.

The piece of music, composed by Beethoven in approximately 1820, was recently discovered by Barry Cooper, a professor at the university. He spotted it written alongside some original sketches of Mass in D, known as the "Missa Solemnis," in a sketchbook now in Berlin, Germany.

Cooper says that Beethoven's two-minute organ harmonization, an arrangement for the 1,000-year-old Gregorian hymn chant "Pange Lingua," was likely written for Archduke Rudolph of Austria. It's unclear whether it was ever performed. But if it ever had been, it would have probably taken place when the archduke was made an archbishop in 1820.

"This piece is surprising because it doesn't sound like Beethoven," Cooper, a Beethoven expert, said in a news release. "If I hadn't seen it in his own handwriting, complete with corrections, I wouldn't have believed it was by him."

Cooper said it's uncommon to uncover a new work by Beethoven.

"I suppose it's likely that no one had noticed this before, because as the first line is sung without accompaniment, it isn't written down, which makes the tune much less easily recognized," he continued.

Cooper said the song is similar to a version of "Pange lingua," which is still played in churches today.

"It's quite telling that Beethoven wrote what is after all a simple piece of functional liturgical music - and must in some way indicate his devotion," Cooper said.

"Gregorian chant was sung much slower in those days, so it's striking that he used the same slow chordal style for the Opus 132 quartet written in 1825. I believe this is the first time he did this," Cooper added.

The professor brought the song to life Thursday at the University of Manchester's Martin Harris Center. The tune was performed by University of Manchester music students, and Cooper added words to the vocal part, which was sung by a group of singers.

Listen to the piece here.