Austrian Archive ‘Exiled’ in Berlin

The Orpheus Trust Library of Émigrés Musicians Was Forced from Vienna for Lack of Funding

Since 1996, the Orpheus Trust in Vienna has been documenting and presenting the work of Austrian émigré musicians, hosting concerts and exhibitions highlighting the work of those suppressed by the Nazi Regime.

The result of a major study, Orpheus im Exil published in 1995, the first of its kind on Austrian émigrés musicians, the Trust began the work of redressing decades of neglect and overcoming, at least in part, Austria’s long standing reluctance to deal with its Nazi past.

However, in the end, reluctance won out. The Orpheus Trust was dissolved in August 2006 for lack of funding, and its archive was moved to the Music Collection of the Archiv der Akademie der Künste in Berlin, one of Europe’s largest musical archives of the 20th century.

“The public authorities starved the Orpheus Trust to death and consequently showed little interest in the work and achievements of the organization,” said Primavera Gruber, founder and artistic director of the Orpheus Trust. Two years of intensive lobbying at public and private institutions for funding the organization’s service facilities were unable to assemble the necessary political support for the project.

The relevant ministries, in particularly the Cultural Secretariat of the Chancellery, only granted a fraction of the subsidies needed to support the programme, and the management committee closed it down.

The archive of the Orpheus Trust included a database of over 5,550 music professionals with over 13,000 compositions listed, together with about 1,300 music manuscripts, 1,000 books, a sound collection of over 1,000 recordings and about 150 oral-history interviews.

The collection was a significant achievement. Documentary evidence in cases like these is usually very hard to come by. It is scattered, and if not destroyed through war or confiscation, essential personal documents are often lost in the process of the emigration.

While all agree that the documents will be in good hands at the Akademie archive, the loss for Austria is more than material.

With the sources on émigrés music in Austria, it will make the scholar’s task even more difficult.  With the resources no longer available here, it will greatly complicate research that needs to be coordinated with Vienna’s other existing musical and academic archives and related scholarship.

Dr. Werner Grünzweig, head of the Music Collections at the archive of the Akademie in Berlin, and himself an Austrian, has mixed feelings about the move.

“I would have liked to see the Orpheus Trust Collection remain in Austria,” Grünzweig said. “We were, of course, very interested to host the collection, but only as a last resort.”

The Berlin archive already had a collection of about 25 German and Austrian émigré musicians, he pointed out, such as Ralph Benatzky, Hanns Eisler and Georg Knepler, thus the new material does fit in well with the outline of the material they already held.

In recent developments, the proponents of the Orpheus Trust announced plans in March for establishing an internet project at the Music Information Center Austria (MICA), entitled www.orpheus.news_im_mica, starting in 2008.

While MICA promotes all kinds of music in Austria, the website should function as a clearing house as well as vehicle for linking up academia and “all people interested in NS-persecuted music.”

It is doubtful whether a website will be sufficient to ventilate a discussion again on Austria’s reluctance to deal with its Nazi past in music.

It will not return, however, the valuable collection of the Orpheus Trust; it remains in exile, as were most of the musicians documented by the organisation. Perhaps that is a kind of poetic justice.


See also: Composer Recorded (At Last!), Georg Tintner: Life as an Ellipse, The City of Music’s Forgotten 20th Century, ‘Die Letzte Blaue’ Returns Home

Related events and reviews (selection): Austria on TrialFinding ‘Vienna’s Lost Daughters’, Innocents AbroadThe Klüger Campaign, Vienna’s Conscience (April 2008), Vienna’s Conscience (March 2009)

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