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Former Directors


Oskar Fleischer (1892–1919)


Oskar Fleischer was born in Bitterfeld on November 2, 1856. From 1878 to 1882 he studied classical and modern languages, literary history and philosophy at the University of Halle. Among his professors was the German studies scholar Julius Zacher. He received his Ph.D. for his dissertation »Das Accentuationssystem Notkers in seinem Boethius«. Subsequently, he studied musicology with Philipp Spitta. Four years later, he published his first paper on the collection »La Rhétorique des Dieux« by the French lutenist Denis Gaultier which was situated at the Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings) in Berlin.

At the »Musikinstrumenten-Museum«, Oskar Fleischer succeeded Spitta as director after the latter’s death in 1892. He made the success in Vienna possible, as well as the official start in Berlin – five years after the founding. At that time, the collection encompassed about 800 instruments and in 1900 likely about 1,000.

Fleischer's main scholarship was not in the field of organology. First of all, he researched medieval notational systems for singing. In 1895, the same year in which Fleischer was appointed professor at the University of Berlin, the first volume of his studies in neumatic notation was published. Volumes two and three followed in 1897 and 1904 - the latter dealt with notational systems from late Greek Antiquity. His scholarship in this research area received great attention and acknowledgement but also provoked strong disagreement. His scholarly achievements, his expert knowledge acquired during study trips and expeditions and a good network put Fleischer in the position to found the »Internationale Musik-Gesellschaft« (IMG) in 1899. Until the outbreak of World War I, this association was the centre of international musicological collaboration through congresses and publications. Fleischer was president of the IMG until 1903 and during the first years he edited its publications together with Max Seiffert and Johannes Wolf. Parallel to these successful activities, he succeeded in acquiring what at that time was the largest and most distinguished private collection, the collection Snoeck, for the »Berlin Musikinstrumenten-Museum«. The collection Snoeck doubled the inventory of the instrument collection and multiplied its value. In 1910, the collection was incorporated into the »Königliche Hochschule für Musik« and Fleischer started to teach courses on organology. Fleischer’s directorship was characterised first and foremost by very limited funding for the preservation of the collection. This often did not allow for the restoration of the instruments over long periods of time. In 1919, Curt Sachs succeeded Fleischer, who continued to teach at the conservatory until 1925. Fleischer died in Berlin on February 8, 1933.



Curt Sachs (1919-1933)


Curt Sachs, born in Berlin on June 29, 1881, came from a Jewish family whose forebears had lived in Germany for hundreds of years. He attended the Französisches Gymnasium and received practical and theoretical musical instruction (piano and clarinet). At the Friedrich-Wilhelm-University he studied art history with Carl Frey and Adolf Goldschmidt, as well as musicology with Hermann Kretzschmar, Oskar Fleischer, Johannes Wolf and Max Friedländer. In 1904, he received his Ph.D. for his dissertation »Das Tabernakel mit Andrea’s del Verrocchio Thomasgruppe an Or San Michele zu Florenz. Ein Beitrag zur Florentiner Kunstgeschichte«. In 1908, he married Irene Lewin, daughter of Louis Lewin, the world famous pharmacologist and toxicologist.
Sachs’ first musicological publications were directed at local history: »Musikgeschichte der Stadt Berlin bis zum Jahre 1800« (1908) and »Die Musik und Oper am kurbrandenburgischen Hof« (1910).

1913 saw the appearance of his first publication in the field of organology, the »Real-Lexikon der Musikinstrumente zugleich ein Polyglossar für das gesamte Instrumentengebiet« and one year later he published the »Systematik der Musikinstrumente« which he had developed together with Erich M. von Hornborstel. It appeared in the periodical »Zeitschrift für Ethnologie« and soon became the internationally acknowledged foundation for the classification of all instruments.

In December 1919, Sachs succeeded Oskar Fleischer as director of the »Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente bei der Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik zu Berlin”. He not only supervised the preservation and presentation of more than 3,000 distinctive instruments but also effectively enlarged the collection with further rarities. Above all, Sachs strived to make the collection accessible for scholarship and therefore presented a »Beschreibender Katalog« as early as 1922. Its systematics, the typological remarks and the terminology endowed this publication much more relevance than a mere inventory catalogue would have had. The »Handbuch der Musikinstrumentenkunde«, which supplemented the catalogue, had been published already in 1920.

In September 1933, the Nazi regime deposed Curt Sachs and he was forced into exile. Until 1937, he held a visiting position at the Sorbonne and then moved to New York where he was appointed visiting professor at Columbia University. Besides this, he supervised many research and restoration projects at the musical instrument collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. After World War II, he followed Alfred Berner’s rebuilding of the Berlin collection with great interest but he couldn’t decide to visit Germany again.

Curt Sachs was honoured in many ways: The Hebrew Union College appointed him Honory Doctor of Hebrew Letters, the American Musicological Society elected him for president (1948-1950) and he was named honorary president of the American Society for Ethnomusicology. The Federal Republic of Germany appointed Sachs Ordinarius Emeritus in 1956. In the years before, the »Gesellschaft für Musikforschung« had already named him honorary member and the Freie Universität Berlin conferred a doctorate honoris causa on him. Curt Sachs died in New York on February 5, 1959.



Alfred Berner (1966–1975)


Alfred Berner was born in Heinrichswalde (East Prussia) in 1910. He studied musicology, art history and Arabic studies at the University of Berlin, and among his teachers were Arnold Schering, Curt Sachs, Erich M. von Hornborstel and Johannes Wolf. From 1931 to 1933 Berner researched Arabic music in Cairo and wrote his dissertation on contemporary Arabic music in Egypt (1935), a pioneering work in the field of ethnomusicology. Berner worked at different German institutes and was in military service before the magistrate of Groß-Berlin appointed him head of division of music and art. In 1966 he was appointed director of the Berlin Musikinstrumenten-Museum and in 1967 professor; he had taught organology at several institutions since 1947.

After Curt Sachs had been forced into exile in 1933, there was neither an appropriate successor as director of the museum nor as professor of organology. Not before the Nazi period ended was a worthy successor found, in the person of Alfred Berner. Following World War II, Berner first rebuilt the Institut für Musikforschung and the instrument collection. Then, he resumed the original idea of making the collection widely accessible. Besides further acquisitions for the instrument collection, he founded a comprehensive and outstanding   library for organology as well as an archive of documents and illustrations. He thus provided an excellent basis for researchers. Among his achievements is also the international collaboration with museums that he initiated. With the end of World War II, many European instrument collections were facing problems of all kinds. All questions regarding the restoration of damaged instruments, the conservation and display of instruments and their possible usage in concerts called for solutions. Finally, it was Berner - as chairman of the supervisory board of the committee for the registration of all instruments in German museums - who in 1958 suggested to put a foundation to exclusively deal with issues related to historical musical instruments in museums. This idea was realised with the founding of the    CIMCIM in 1960. Berner was director of the museum until 1975. He died in Endingen on February 26, 2007.