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The American Musical Instrument Society


The Curt Sachs Award 2000

Alfred Berner

Alfred BernerThe Board of Governors of the American Musical Instrument Society designated Alfred Berner the recipient of the Curt Sachs Award for the year 2000 in recognition of his distinguished leadership in rebuilding the musical instrument collection in Berlin after the Second World War; for his efforts in founding CIMCIM, an international committee of museums and collections of musical instruments; and in acknowledgment of his scholarly contributions to organology.

Alfred Berner, a major figure in our field in postwar Germany, was born in 1910 in Heinrichswalde (East Prussia). Following his study of musicology, art history, and Arabic at Berlin University, where his teachers were Arnold Schering, Curt Sachs, Erich M. von Hornbostel, and Johannes Wolf, Berner researched Arabic music in Cairo from 1931 to 1933. In 1935 he took a doctorate with a dissertation on contemporary Arabic music in Egypt, a pioneering work of ethnomusicology. After jobs at several German institutions and military service, in 1945 he was appointed principal musical advisor to the Greater Berlin city council. In 1966 he became director of the musical instrument museum, and in 1967 professor. He has taught organology at several institutions since 1947. When the Nazis ousted Curt Sachs as director of the musical instrument museum, there was nobody of his competency to fill the gap. After the Nazi and postwar abyss, Berner became the virtual successor to Sachs in both capacities as director of the museum and professor of organology.

Berner will be remembered for his leadership in rebuilding the musical instrument museum in Berlin after its disastrous demise in World War II, and for his effortst—ogether with the Comtesse Geneviève de Chambure and John Henry van der Meer, among others—to bring together the heads of European instrument collections to discuss common concerns. Toward the end of the war, the Berlin collection lost about 3200 of its almost 4000 holdings as well as its historic landmark building. Luckily, the surviving instruments included a group of Ruckers harpsichords and invaluable wind instruments from St. WenzelÌs Church in Naumburg. Considering the situation after the war, it was not even certain that there would be a musical instrument museum in Berlin again, or whether the remaining pieces would be allocated to other museums. It was largely Alfred BernerÌs initiative in conjunction with the help of local politicians and a few other people of the "first hour" that resulted in the reestablishment of the former museum, the securing of new storage and exhibition space, and the reconstitution of the collection. Today its holdings number about 3200, many of them obtained by Berner.

The museum, founded in 1888, was a department of the Hochschule f½r Musik until 1935/36; afterwards it was affiliated with the Institut f½r Musikforschung, side by side with the division for musicology (producing editions of music by German composers and the history of music theory) and the archives of German Volkslieder. This institute was founded in 1917 in Bückeburg with an overarching research goal, which envisioned a close cooperation with art history and the history of technology. This broad concept was in keeping with the endeavors of outstanding and farsighted reserarchers, among them Curt Sachs, whose Geist und Werden der Muisikinstrumente (1929) represented this approach impressively. Sachs was a constant consultant of the B½ckeburg institute and was named director of the Berlin musical instrument museum in 1919 and professor of organology in Germany and in institutions elsewhere. Distressingly, Nazi dictatorship not only drove Sachs away, but also brought an end to the auspicious scholarly goal of the institute and museum, squeezing them into narrow nationalistic objectives. When the Institut für Musikforschung and the museum were rebuilt after World War II, those in charge followed the original idea of a broad cultural approach. Beside collecting instruments, Berner built up a comprehensive and outstanding organological library (the best in Germany) and an archive of documents and images, and thus formed an excellent basis for research.

BernerÌs second major accomplishment lies in his work toward an international collaboration of museums. After World War II, many instrument collections in different European countries faced similar problems. The questions pertaining to restoration of damaged instruments, maintenance and display of instruments, and their possible use for performance posed themselves with unprecedented vigor and demanded answers. It was Berner who, in 1958 in his capacity as chairman of a committee to register all musical instruments in German public museums, suggested the foundation of an organization which would dedicate itself entirely to the issues of historical musical instruments in museums. This idea eventually lead straight to the formation of CIMCIM in 1960.

Alfred Berner accomplished a great work for organology by laying foundations and creating conditions in which we can carry out our research today.

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