The history of the ‘Museum of Musical Instruments’ (Musikinstrumenten-Museum) in Berlin goes back to the year of 1888 when the ‚Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments’ (Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente) was founded by Philipp Spitta and Joseph Joachim. At that time, the collection was part of the ‘Royal Academy of Music’ (Königliche Akademische Hochschule in Berlin). The initial collection was based on 34 musical instruments coming from the ‘Museum of Arts and Crafts’ (Kunstgewerbemuseum) and had been in possession of the ‘Prussian Chamber of Art’ (Brandenburgisch-Preußische Kunstkammer) for the greater part. 240 additional instruments were purchased from Paul de Wit, a publisher and music tradesman from Leipzig, and incorporated into the collection. In 1890, once again, an immense array of historical instruments owned by Paul de Wit was acquired for the ‘Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments’ of Berlin. Among those instruments there was one of extremely high value and interest: the famous Bach harpsichord.
Oskar Fleischer, who was the first director of the museum from 1892 to 1919, succeeded in the biggest acquisition of the museum: In 1902 he was able to purchase the 1145 musical instruments from a private collection of the Ghent lawyer César Snoeck with financial support from the Prussian Royal Family. The extraordinary character of this assembly of instruments is shown by four harpsichords built in the first half of the 17th century in the famous workshop of the Ruckers family in Antwerp, as well as a transverse flute by Jean Hotteterre which is one of the few still existing.
The first complete scientific catalogue of the collection was published under the direction of Curt Sachs (director of the museum from 1919 to 1933). This catalogue is still the basis of many organological publications and classifications. Thanks to Curt Sachs, the scientific significance of the collection and its international reputation increased.
After Curt Sachs had been forced by the Nazis to emigrate, the collection of musical instruments was separated from the ‘State Academy of Music’ (Staatliche Hochschule für Musik) and incorporated into the ‘State Institute for German Music and Musicological Research’ (Staatliches Institut für Deutsche Musikforschung) in 1935, its predecessor being the ‘Royal Institute of Musicological Research’ (Fürstliches Institut für musikwissenschaftliche Forschung) in Bückeburg. The Museum of Musical Instruments comprised almost 4000 instruments until the beginning of the Second World War, but unfortunately only around 700 items survived the war, many of them being in a terrible condition.
Alfred Berner, who was the director of the museum from 1945 to 1975, revived the ‘Institute for Musicology (SIMPK)’ and at the same time the Museum of Musical Instruments (in spite of scanty financial means), so that it became once again one of the most important collections of the world. Moreover, he was able to establish an extensive library for musicology with the emphasis on organology.
In 1984 the Museum of Musical Instruments moved into a new building together with the SIMPK. This building is situated on the Kemperplatz next to the Berlin Philharmonic Hall and has been constructed by Edgar Wisniewski as a part of the ‘Culture Forum’ (Kulturforum) according to plans from the celebrated Berlin architect Hans Scharoun.
About 800 of the nearly 3000 instruments of the Berlin collection are shown to the public in a generous and flood-lighted exhibition area.
One of the outstanding points of the exhibition is the unique collection of early seventeenth century woodwind instruments from St. Wenzel, Naumburg which range among the oldest testimonies of European music history. Other items demonstrate the development of the instruments in a present day symphony orchestra in an unique way such as the early harpsichords and spinets from Italy, the Netherlands (from the Ruckers family workshop), France and Germany, or the bowed stringed instruments of famous Italian, French, Alemannic and German masters (e.g. from Antonius and Hieronymus Amati, Antonio Stradivari, Januarius Gagliano, from Jacobus Stainer, Hans Krouchdaler, Frantz Straub and Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume) and the woodwind instruments from Jean Hotteterre, Jean Hyacinth, Joseph Rottenburgh, Jacob and Johann Christoff Denner, Johann Eichentopf, Johann Wilhelm Oberlender and Johann Joachim Quantz.
Further attractions of the museum are instruments from the ‘Ancient Prussian Art Chamber’ (Brandenburgisch-Preußische Kunstkammer) and from the property of Frederick the Great (such as his travel cembalo or some of his transverse flutes). Moreover, the museum possesses a pianoforte from Joseph Brodmann’s workshop in Vienna that belonged once to Carl Maria von Weber who composed his opera ‘Freischütz’ on it, one of the earliest bass tubas by Johann Gottfried Moritz, an English church organ by John Gray and, from the possession of the Siemens family, the biggest theatre organ of Europe, the four-manual Mighty Wurlitzer organ.
In an expert way, the Museum of Musical Instruments pays a lot of attention to the preservation, restoration and reproduction of all its precious historical instruments. For example two copies of the famous Bach harpsichord, illustrating the different stages of construction, can be regarded and listened to.
The museum is also provided with extensive archives of sound records from their own instruments as well as from comparable ones of other collections.
The visitors are invited to study the collection at their leisure and listen through headphones to specially produced compact discs which bring many of the historical instruments to life. Equally they might discover the sound of an eighteenth-century harpsichord or fortepiano in guided tours or ‘Early Music – live’ concerts that are given throughout the year and render the place into a ‘sounding museum’. Special exhibitions, lectures, scientific discussions and concerts with young musicians during the summer weeks (concerts of the Gotthard-Schierse-Foundation) and as regular afternoon events every fortnight (JOUR FIXE) complete the calendar of the museum.
Special guided tour every Saturday 11 a.m. and every Thursday 6 p.m.
Performance of the Wurlitzer organ every Saturday 12 a.m.
Further guided tours on request (tel. +49 30-25481-139).
Bereichskarte (Area Pass) Kulturforum 12,00/6,00 EUR
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