AMIS is pleased to announce that Prof. Dr. Em. Eszter Fontana is the recipient of the Curt Sachs Award for 2021. The Sachs Award, named for one of the founders of the modern systematic study of musical instruments, recognizes individuals who have made significant lifetime contributions to the goals of the Society. Eszter Fontana’s lifetime contributions are manifold and outstanding, and span more than half a century.
Born behind the Iron Curtain in Budapest into a family of musicians, Eszter—aged eighteen—started a four-year training in 1966 as a conservator for musical instruments at the Musikinstrumentenmuseum in Leipzig. Following her studies in Leipzig, she worked as a conservator for musical instruments at the Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum) in Budapest, and was appointed curator and head of the department of musical instruments and clocks in 1974. Extensive research into the history of piano makers and piano manufacturing in Budapest formed the basis for her thesis: Piano Making in Pest and Buda, 1800–1872, which earned her a PhD from the Franz-Liszt-Music Academy in Budapest in 1993.
In 1995, Eszter Fontana was appointed the director of the Musical Instrument Museum at the University of Leipzig. From 1995 to 2012 she taught organology, acoustics, and paleography at the University of Leipzig. In 1996, she founded the Verlag des Musikinstrumentenmuseums Leipzig to facilitate the publication of organological research projects, and in 1998 she founded the Institute for Musical Instrument Research “Georg Kinsky” to help finance musical instrument research.
From 1998 to 2004, Eszter served as the president of CIMCIM. In 2006, she was awarded the title of Professor (außerplanmässige Professur, at German universities awarded for outstanding accomplishments in research and teaching). Over the course of her career she was responsible for more than 25 exhibitions, including the complete reconceptualization of the permanent galleries at the Musical Instrument Museum at the Grassi Museum in Leipzig (University of Leipzig). Following her retirement, Eszter continues to be active as researcher, writer, and editor.
Eszter’s lifetime accomplishments are manifested in her focus on musical instruments as the primary subject of her research. In that regard her work ideally reflects the society’s central goals as a musical instrument society. Eszter’s significant contributions to instrument conservation (including Beethoven’s iconic Broadwood piano from 1817 in Budapest in 1992), her research into manufacturing techniques and makers (ranging from keyboards to wind and string instruments), and her contributions to the interpretation of musical instruments in a wider context of music history, reveal a wide variety of approaches to musical instrument studies. Her extensive activities as university professor, editor, and publisher have earned her significant recognition and allowed her to disseminate knowledge about musical instruments in many ways.