Famous composers, it seems, are just as prone to procrastination as the rest of us.

A rare proof score of Elgar's choral masterpiece The Apostles shows that Worcestershire's most famous son narrowly escaped disaster at the first performance of his work, because of its late completion.

The Apostles was given its World Premier at the Birmingham Festival on October 14 1903, and was a considerable success.

But the proof of the vocal score shows that it was only finally corrected ready for printing just six weeks before on September 4.

"Given that the vocal scores had then to be printed for the vast Birmingham Chorus to be able to rehearse the work, and this would have taken a couple of weeks, it is remarkable how close the whole project came to disaster," said Richard Westwood-Brookes, historical documents expert at Shropshire-based Mullock Madeley auctioneers, the company which is due to sell the score.

Leaving work to the last minute seemed to be something of a habit.

Elgar had already seen a composition flop because of hurried preparations, on a work premiered in 1900.

The composition, based on Cardinal Newman's poem on the journey of a soul after death, was later rescued from oblivion by a second performance under Julius Buths at Dusseldorf in December 1901.

"Elgar always seemed to engage in brinkmanship with his greatest work, and this seems to have happened with The Apostles," said Mr Westwood-Brookes. "It is surprising because you would have thought he would have learned his lesson from the disastrous first performance of The Dream of Gerontius at the Birmingham Festival just three years earlier – caused mainly because the chorus didn't have enough rehearsal time because Elgar didn't complete the work until the last minute.

"The chorus was out of tune, it dragged on and on and on, and it was a thoroughly disreputable performance. Elgar famously said God had denied him a good performance of his greatest work.

"But The Apostles turned out to be a huge success."

Proof scores of Elgar's major works come onto the market very rarely, mainly because the majority of them are now held in public institutions.

"This one is particularly intriguing as it belonged to Harold Brooke, who was an editor with Elgar's publishers Novellos, and it is almost certain that this was the first of Elgar's masterpieces he worked on," said Mr Westwood Brookes.

"His corrections can be seen throughout the score, but one very telling page lists various dates when he had completed correcting each successive passage of the huge score."

This includes a date indicating that he finally finished on September 4, 1903.

"The score is personally signed and dedicated by Elgar to Harold Brookes with the further comment 'with esteem' but one feels that a more appropriate comment would have been 'with relief'".

The score carries an estimate of between #700-1000 and is one historical document of hundreds ranging from the early Medieval to the modern day which will be auctioned off.

The sale is at Ludlow Racecourse on October 25.