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Stephan Turmalin’s
Die Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente des KHM in Wien während der Zeit
des Nationalsozialismus

[The KHM Collection of Historic Musical Instruments in Vienna under National Socialism], Vienna, 2018

A Rebuttal

Turmalin’s publication relates the following:

1) The Collection of Historic Musical Instruments was not established in 1916; instead the idea was a product of the Nazi period (Turmalin 2018, 27 ff.).
2) The Collection of Historic Musical Instruments acquired 500 musical instruments from the collection of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in 1938, thereby expanding its holdings threefold. These instruments were never returned and remain in the illegitimate possession of Kunsthistorisches Museum, KHM (Turmalin 2018, 7, 34, etc.).
3) Those responsible today for the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments continue in this tradition and pass on the “narrative” of the Nazi period without reflection (Turmalin 2018, 97 ff.).

Point 1
The Collection of Historic Musical Instruments (Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente, SAM) was established in the autumn of 1916 by Julius von Schlosser, then director of the Collections of Arms, Armour and Industrial Design of the Imperial House (HHStA, OKäA, Akt 4000 ex 1916, 54). This was confirmed by the Office of the Grand Marshal of the imperial court (Oberstkämmereramt).

This historical fact is questioned and transfigured into a founding myth by Turmalin. Leaving this to one side however, the answer to the question whether Turmalin in his publication undertakes “concise deconstruction of a myth” (“konzise Mythendekonstruktion”; Turmalin 2018, 7) may be found by careful reading of the foreword to the SAM catalogue which was published by Julius Schlosser in 1920. In addition to major collections in Berlin and Copenhagen, Schlosser enumerates all the museums known to him, which possess holdings of musical instruments. Schlosser stresses however, “these collections are not independent, are not more than annexes, and are either uncatalogued, or very scantily catalogued” (Schlosser 1920, 6). It is precisely this character of the SAM as an annex to the Collection of Armour and Industrial Design rather than the founding of an independent collection, which Turmalin believes only now to have discovered (Turmalin 2018, 15 f.).

However, Schlosser writes very clearly on the consolidation of instruments from old Habsburg holdings (Ambras) and the Collection of Archduke Franz Ferdinand:

  • These considerations together with the reasons mentioned in the introduction gave the author the idea in 1916 of uniting all the individual collections now under single ownership, which though very valuable on their own, are nonetheless incomplete, and which complement one another in a most fortunate manner, and which had also been enlarged by a number of new acquisitions (in particular through the auction of the Amerling estate). The idea for this new creation—for indeed this is what it is—was received with favour and promoted by the then Imperial authorities: the newly established collection can boast the return of two valuable pieces, the Maria Theresia Violin (no. 100) and the house organ (no. 132) from Ambras castle. (Schlosser 1920, 7; italics by the authors of this paper).

This passage permits no interpretation other than that Schlosser had intended to found a new collection. Note of this new institution was taken abroad and received positive comment, for example, in “Randnoten zum Katalog des neuen Wiener Instrumentenmuseums” by Georg Kinsky (1921). Curt Sachs also reviewed the collection appreciatively in his publication “Das neue Wiener Instrumentenmuseum” (1920/21).

It might well be expected that a historian would know that it was alien to contemporary conceptions to separate administratively a newly established collection, which as late as 1916 had been part of a court inventory. The court collection was considered a whole; in this light Turmalin’s search for the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments’ “own letter-head” from this period (Turmalin 2018, 19) seems odd.

Turmalin attempts to find the date of the founding of the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments on the KHM website. He writes that only the year 1914 is mentioned, and that this does not match the date of 1916, upon which he casts doubt (Turmalin 2018, 14). He thus overlooks that 1914 is not the year of the collection’s founding, but that when one of the three historical cores of the collection was incorporated into the museum.

That Schlosser created a special cataloguing system out of which a modern inventory for the newly formed collection was to develop, is unknown to Turmalin (Turmalin 2018, 18). In order to recognise Schlosser’s idea, a close examination of his 1920 catalogue would have sufficed, for the “N.E.” (Neuerwerbungen) numbers designate new accessions.

Particularly irritating is Turmalin’s interpretation of historical documents from the KHM Kunstkammer (KK). Turmalin uses these as the basis for his thesis that Julius Schlosser “had no museum concept or narrative” (Turmalin 2018, 26), and underpins this by maintaining that Schlosser merely set up separately “two different, self-contained Habsburg collections of musical instruments”. In conclusion Turmalin formulates his principal thesis: today’s Collection of Historic Musical Instruments “is characterised by National Socialist cultural policy” (Turmalin 2018, 27); Schlosser’s narrative is not referred to.

Although publications exist on Schlosser’s curatorial concept, which clearly explain the focus of his collecting and exhibiting of musical instruments, a brief perusal of Führer durch die Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente from 1933 shows that Schlosser by no means merely placed two Habsburg collections on display beside one another without establishing any relationship between them. It should be mentioned here in passing that the collection of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was not a Habsburg collection. Indeed, only one instrument out of ten in the first room of the exhibition originated from the collections named by Turmalin. Schlosser spans a concise methodological arc that begins with the question of the aesthetic identity of music and proceeds to the paradigm change in music from the beauty of nature to the beauty of art to the sublime. Turmalin errs too in his conclusion, which he defines as his principal thesis, for the exhibition today is of a completely different concept than those of Schlosser, Klapsia, or Luithlen.

Point 2
It may be noted that the idea of establishing a major music museum in Vienna had been put forward as early as 1934 by Alfred Stix, then director of KHM, and was aired on several occasions before 1938, as mentioned by Herbert Haupt in Die Geschichte des Hauses am Ring, (1991, 117) and repeated by Turmalin (p. 20 ff.). The idea was thus not the child of the National Socialist regime, but had been under discussion for many years before being taken up by Kajetan Mühlmann, Fritz Dworschak, Franz Schütz, and Fritz Zoder, and implemented by the means usual to a dictatorship. The 37 year-old Victor Luithlen, amanuensis of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, was hence not responsible for the project (Luithlen’s role will not be explored further here, as it is to be dealt with in a publication to appear in 2019). The instrument collection of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde was taken over by KHM, which was also under provisional management, and transferred to the Palais Pallavicini. However—and this must be particularly emphasised—the objects were expressly not integrated into KHM’s holdings, but were given to the museum as a loan, whereby “the ownership rights of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde were upheld” (Die Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente. Die ersten 100 Jahre, Vienna, 2018, 25). All other musical instruments requisitioned in a very questionable legal manner, such as those from the monasteries of Göttweig and Herzogenburg, as well as from private Jewish collections, for example the Rothschild collection, were then invariably listed as loans rather than being included in the museum’s main inventory.

Turmalin, however, writes several times that SAM holdings tripled in the years 1938–45. The reader may thus gain the impression that “stolen” instruments were incorporated into the inventory of the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, where they are furthermore still to be found (Turmalin 2018, 34). Equally untrue is that only in the early 1970s did SAM permit the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde to dispose freely of its objects (Turmalin 2018, 34). Numerous exhibitions and concerts staged by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in the 1950s and 1960s attest to extensive lending activity.

The dissemination of false claims is compounded in Turmalin’s publication by omission of essential facts. The Federal Ministry of Education and Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde signed a custody agreement in 1950. During the negotiations the ministry offered the management of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde the return of the entire collection. The proposal was declined, not least because of lack of space. Of course, curator Victor Luithlen (who became the responsible director only in 1952) had an interest in retaining the loans of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in the Neue Burg in order to present an attractive exhibition. Equally, there were disputes between the institutions owing to bureaucratic procedures typical of the time. Nonetheless, over many years up until Luithlen’s retirement in 1966 instruments belonging to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde were restored, made playable, transported, and tuned for concerts of the annual Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival). In spring 1971, out of the 498 objects, 300 which had not been exhibited were transferred in three tranches. By mutual agreement 168 objects belonging to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde were to remain on exhibit until 1988. The loan agreement was renewed in 1991 during Wilfried Seipel’s tenure as KHM director general. A further 60 objects were returned with a view to streamlining the impending remounting of the SAM. At the request of the director of the archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Otto Biba, these objects were kept for six years in the SAM depot, because the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde itself had insufficient room to store these adequately before completion of its underground storage facility.

The portrayal of the event policy of SAM under Victor Luithlen contained in Chapter IV, in which he is characterised as an active promoter of National Socialist propaganda (Turmalin 2018, 92) may be briefly evaluated.

Luithlen was in 1939 a relatively young member of the curatorial staff in an authoritarian bureaucratic system. He was until the end of the war always subject to a superior. Heinrich Klapsia is named as SAM director; his successor, Erich Strohmer, appears to be unknown to Turmalin. Luithlen was appointed curator at the beginning of October 1942; he became director only in 1952. That Turmalin attributes principal responsibility for Nazi propaganda in the museum to a subaltern official reflects a lack of familiarity with the authoritarian administrative system. Indeed, on the contrary, Luithlen attracted attention for inadequate political engagement for the party and for this reason was summoned for questioning, as is documented in his Gauakt (Austrian State Archives).

Point 3
In contrast to the expectations awakened by the publication’s title, namely a serious analysis of the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments under National Socialism (pp. 56–96), the chapter “Gründungsmythos” (pp. 7–55) and that dealing with the House of Austrian History (pp. 97–109), both of peripheral relevance, assume a predominate place.

Especially problematic is Chapter V, “Exkurs: Die SAM als Narrativ”. Here resistance to the closure of SAM is portrayed as agitation motivated by party political motives undertaken by a few vocal participants during the campaign for elections to the Vienna city council in autumn 2015. These “in short opposed one thing: any change in Vienna’s museum landscape” (Turmalin 2018, 97). The petition initiated by the former director of the Technical Museum, Peter Donhauser, and signed over just a few weeks by 6,600 people around the world—some of whom added personal comments expressing great concern—is not even mentioned by Turmalin, although according to a footnote (Turmalin 2018, 99 footnote 308) he was familiar with the document.

Turmalin represents SAM’s international significance as a construct of museum staff dating from 2015. He bases this assertion once again on Schlosser: “In the general inventory published by Julius Schlosser in 1920 the latter spoke about SAM in a considerably more modest tone. Therein it was described as small, and in comparison with other European collections, unimportant” (Turmalin 2018, 97 f.). KHM texts from SAM’s more recent history highlighting its unique character and international significance, in Turmalin’s view exaggerate inadmissibly, and are contrasted with the “modest” Schlosser. However, Turmalin cites Schlosser incompletely, which is characteristic of the persistent tendentious tone of his publication. The quotation is abbreviated and its meaning thereby distorted:

  • Of course in terms of the number of objects (approximately 360 items), [it] can hardly compete with the aforementioned collections, it is nonetheless without question superior in nobility of origin and the large number of unique and rare objects of the first order. It is the only collection of this type whose origin is well documented as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries (especially through the collection of Archduke Ferdinand II at Ambras Castle), and this lends it—putting to one side the fact that it represents, almost without a break, instrumental music of the Late Renaissance by original objects of ancient provenance—its unique character. (Schlosser, 1920, 7)

The extraordinary importance of SAM is stressed in this passage thus contradicting Turmalin’s thesis. Moreover, the final and conclusive clause (indicated in italics by the authors of this rebuttal) is omitted by Turmalin; it apparently did not suit his own “narrative”: that the unique character of SAM is a propagandistic invention of the Nazis, which in 2015 was adopted and passed on without reflection by staff of the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments.

The “narrative” of a collection of musical instruments cannot seriously be constructed from incompletely cited passages drawn from publications and websites, but by examining its scholarly, educational, and artistic activities over many decades.

A number of these activities may be cited here

  • From the 1950s early music witnessed a decisive revival at SAM through the efforts of Josef Mertin and his students, including Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Eduard Melkus, as well as Gustav Leonhardt, René Clemencic, and many others.
  • Lectures and radio broadcasts stimulated a lively interest in historical musical instruments and their sound.
  • Founding of CIMCIM (ICOM) by Victor Luithlen, 1951–60.
  • Starting in the 1960s SAM holdings were a principal source for instrument builders around the world, who crafted replicas of original objects. These reproductions, which were played in all corners of the globe, exercised a decisive influence on historically informed performance practice.
  • Following occasional concerts in the 1980s and 1990s, annual concert series were organised starting in 2000. Nine CDs were produced, which documented in exemplary fashion the sound of the collection’s instruments.
  • In 1972–88, Peter Kukelka (formerly a restorer at SAM) trained restorers of musical instruments in cooperation with the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Since Alfons Huber’s habilitation in 1996 academic training in this field has continued to the present.

Starting soon after the Second World War and up to the present, the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments has generated new impulses internationally through its scholarly and artistic activities. Between 1998 and 2015 four scholarly catalogues that set new standards worldwide were published. A complete picture of recent activities is given in KHM annual reports that have been published since 2001. In its 2017 evaluation of KHM, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) attested SAM above-average scholarly output in relation to modest staff and financial resources.

In the final chapter of his publication, Turmalin states, “in the debate about transfers in 2015 it became apparent that the arguments which support the importance of SAM were more a means to an end than a reflection of the facts” (Turmalin 2018, 107). The book’s penultimate paragraph reiterates:

  • It has been demonstrated that today’s Collection of Historic Musical Instruments has been influenced to a far greater degree by the cultural policy of the Nazi period, and that organisationally it is also unrelated to the partial collection established in 1916. The main thesis upon which the work is based could hence be verified. (Turmalin 2018, 109)

Disregarding the fact that SAM today counts about 1,000 more objects than at the time of its foundation, and some 750 more than at the end of the Nazi period, to equate today’s curators and restorers at SAM with intellectual heirs to the Nazis as implied by Turmalin is defamation on the border of legality; it is offensive in a master’s thesis issued by a publishing house.

The degree to which Turmalin is biased even in low-threshold internet research is revealed by one example. Turmalin endeavours to paint concerns about unhampered maintenance of the collection, which were also expressed in the Austrian parliament in 2015, as an issue exclusively of political parties on the right of the spectrum. He omits mention of a parliamentary question posed by Wolfgang Zinggl (then representing The Greens), who was the first to ask insightful questions about difficulties impending in connection with the establishment of Weltmuseum. At the time, allocation of space in the Neue Burg was discussed in connection with the “re-dimensioning” of Weltmuseum. The interest in maintaining SAM voiced by Walter Rosenkranz (Freedom Party, FPÖ) is linked by Turmalin to elections to the Vienna city council in October 2015 (Turmalin 2018, 97). He overlooks that Rosenkranz, who studied guitar and lute, has a specialist’s interest in the optimal maintenance of the exhibition and collection. That Turmalin also omits entirely to mention the critical view expressed on the issue by Rector Eva Blimlinger of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna is yet another indication of his subjective approach.

The publication denies categorically the collection’s uncontested international importance for both experts and music lovers for a century. Even briefly after its foundation the collection’s prestige extended as far afield as New York, Brussels, and Copenhagen, where at the time copies of its unique musical instruments were crafted. This too is unknown to Turmalin, although he attended, at least in part, the symposium held in 2016 to mark the collection’s centenary, where he had the opportunity to learn of this from the papers that were presented.

Concerning Turmalin’s criticism about having been denied access to the SAM office archives, the following must be noted: after his enquiry in 2016 about free use of this material, permission was declined in consultation with the office of the KHM director general. The reason was that this is a current office registry, not a historical archive with finalised, self-contained collections. The chronologically arranged documents, which are largely recent correspondence, are made available for official oversight exclusively. Moreover, members of staff consult the same files in connection with current research projects. For these reasons Turmalin was offered written replies to his questions, and he availed himself of this assistance. He also received support and information from SAM staff. A meeting in the office of the director of the collection also took place. All of this however goes unmentioned in his publication.

Turmalin’s publication does not correspond to the standards of serious scholarly research, either as to method or content:

  • Historical facts are misrepresented and denied.
  • Quotations are abbreviated so as to distort their meaning.
  • Current members of museum staff are accused of perpetuating a Nazi narrative and of intentionally falsifying facts. This must be rejected in the strongest terms.

Rudolf Hopfner
Beatrix Darmstädter
Alfons Huber

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