Restitution within musicology

A further report in today’s Standard:

“Hardly touched – the Subject of Restitution within Musicology”
Experts establish the lack of provenance research within orchestras and theatres – lack of resources cited as greatest block:

The cases of well-known works of art such as Klimt’s ‘Goldene Adele’ can occupy public debate for weeks. Now libraries are also starting to research their inventories for questionable articles. Music, with its scores and autographs, however, is far less frequently researched. Experts on musical instruments are also now demonstrating how far behind they have fallen in establishing provenance.

“Within the general provenance research at the national Library of Austria and various other university libraries, one inevitably encounters musical objects” – explained Michael Staudinger, librarian of Vienna’s Music and Performing Arts’ University. “Especially in larger collections, one has found inventories of musical items with questionable provenance.”

Sketch- and staff-paper books are extremely difficult for provenance researchers. This is probably the reason that heads of libraries and archives have carried out so little work in this area. Staudinger: “One knows very little about the trade [that was carried out] in stolen musical items – nor of the roles played by antiquarian dealers. Antiquarian dealers have hardly been researched at all – even those between the years 1933 and 1945.”

Provenance Research not an important aspect

“Provenance research is not as important within music as it is within the visual arts” according to Barbara Boisits, from the Institute of Art and Music history research at Austria’s Academy of Sciences. “Often objects only show up when being sold. Or. . ” – she continues: “when someone starts the process of provenance research”.

An example of this is the collection of Strauss-Meyszner, the estate of Johann Strauss’s son. Strauss’s step daughter was forced into to ‘gift’ the Strauss estate to the City of Vienna. In 2001, the collection was restored to its owners before being reacquired for the City of Vienna at a cost of 73,000,000 Schillings. (€530,533) At Sotheby’s, the orchestral score of Mahler’s ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ – an object believed to have been restored to the Adler estate, was put up for auction.

Questionable provenance amongst books [and manuscripts] is usually not obvious, and only possible [to carry out] with enormous in-put of time and resources. “Generally, it’s assumed that one will not find the same degree of valuable material [in libraries] as in researching the visual arts” according to Staudinger. He adds, “I certainly wouldn’t expect to find many hidden treasures in our collection.”

The Vienna Philharmonic’s Provenance Research

This situation is almost certainly quite different with orchestras – hitherto another unexplored area of provenance research according to the musicologist Fritz Trümpi. “Amongst librarians, research is far more advanced than with theatres, [ensembles] and orchestras”. In the wake of its own questionable history during the Nazi years, the Vienna Philharmonic has at least announced its own initiative concerning provenance research, still to be carried out.

Other large orchestras could follow suit, though as yet, Trümpi is unaware of any such activities. “Here, we’re dealing with expensive instruments. Until now, this component has been ignored. And without public pressure, nothing really much gets started.”