Throughout its history of more than one hundred years, the Berlin
Phonogramm-Archiv devoted its activities to the collection of and
research in traditional music from all over the world. While the sound
carriers and recording techniques have changed, the purpose of the sound
archive has remained the same: the collection, preservation, research
and publication of the world’s musical traditions.
Phonogramm-Archiv as part of the Ethnomusicology Department of the
Museum of Ethnology in Berlin (formerly the Museum für Völkerkunde)
today comprises one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of
traditional music, a unique treasure of the history of Ethnomusicology,
not only in Europe, but in the entire world.
The Archive was
established by Professor Carl Stumpf of the Institute of Psychology at
Berlin University. The recordings of a Thai theatre group made at the
Berlin Zoological Garden in September, 1900, served as the foundation of
a unique collection of music that began with recording foreign
musicians in Berlin. Carl Stumpf (1848-1936) was mainly interested in
acoustics and music psychology, whereas Erich Moritz von Hornbostel
(1877-1935), director of the Phonogram Archive from 1905 to 1933, soon
established close links and fruitful cooperation with the Museum für
Völkerkunde in Berlin. Professor Felix von Luschan, then director of the
Museum, was one of the first to take a phonograph with him on an
expedition, to excavations in Sendshirli (present-day Turkey), where he
recorded Turkish and Kurdish songs in 1902. Inspired by von Luschan,
other members of the Museum also became interested and included
phonograph recordings in their ethnological fieldwork, for example,
Albert von Lecoq (Turkestan, 1904), Karl Theodor Preuss (Mexico, 1905),
Bernhard Ankermann (Cameroon, 1908), Richard Thurnwald (Melanesia, 1907
ff.) and others. They were all instructed in recording techniques before
they left on their research trips. The arrangement was clear: They
received a phonograph with the necessary equipment and a bulk of blank
wax cylinders from the Archive. Upon their return, the equipment was
given back, together with a so-called "journal” with all the necessary
information about the recordings, such as place, date, informant and the
recorded piece of music. The Archive was then responsible for
reproducing galvanoplastic negatives (so-called galvanos) and a set of
copies, one for the collector and one for the Archive. Hornbostel
himself or other researchers transcribed the music and published the
The main concern of Stumpf, Hornbostel and other
members of the Archive was to collect as many examples of traditional
music as possible in order to create and follow theories about the
origin and evolution of music in general. Thus, on the basis of the
great number of recordings on wax cylinders from all over the world, a
new university subject came into being: "Comparative Musicology” or
"ethnomusicology,” as it is called today.
Phonogramm-Archiv with its specific intention, organisation and
scientific output served as a demonstration institution for other
archives of the world such as the "Archives of Traditional Music” in
Bloomington, Indiana, founded by George Herzog who spent two years as
assistant to von Hornbostel in the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv.
cylinder recordings of the Phonogramm-Archiv comprise a history of more
than fifty years. Between 1893 and 1954, more than 16,000 original
cylinders reached the Archive from almost all areas of the world. All in
all, 350 different collections, each collection ranging from one to
several hundred cylinders, have been inventoried together with their
original documentation, correspondence, references to the literature and
photos. The range of recordings covers non-Western music in a variety
of songs, traditional as well as popular, secular as well as ritual,
musical instruments, examples of foreign languages and speech,
experimental recordings and a few examples of Western music.
its eventful history the Archive was forced to change its place and
institutional affiliation several times. Originally the Archive was part
of the Institute of Psychology of Berlin University. In 1922, when
Stumpf retired, the Archive was attached to the Music College; in 1934,
when Hornbostel had already left Germany, it was incorporated into the
Museum für Völkerkunde under Marius Schneider and moved to Berlin -
Dahlem. In 1944, the greatest part (90%) was evacuated to mines in
Silesia and later taken to Leningrad. At the end of the 1950s, the
holdings were handed over to authorities in East Berlin, partly
exchanged with the West, but later put under seal.
West-Berlin the remains of the former Phonogramm-Archiv formed the basis
for a new ethnomusicological department, which opened in 1952 under
Professor Kurt Reinhard (1914 – 1979) as a combination of the sound
archive and a collection of musical instruments. After the Second World
War, a new era of recording started with the purchase of the first tape
recorder. The number of recordings steadily increased, from 13,000 items
in 1961 up to 150,000 items in 2000. The stock of music recordings on
tapes, records, cassettes (analogue and digital), and videos, in
original and copy, considerably exceeded the holdings of the pre-war
Phonogramm-Archiv not only in size, but also in its content and
It was a great event when the historical
collections were returned to the Museum für Völkerkunde after the
unification of East and West Germany in 1991. A review of the number and
status of the cylinders in 1993 showed that about 95% of the wax
cylinder collections of the former Phonogramm-Archiv survived, whereas
40 % of the collection of shellac records was missing. The Archive's
early wax cylinder collections received the honour of being entered into
the UNESCO register "Memory of the World” in 1999. The 100th
anniversary of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv in the year 2000 provided an
excellent opportunity to impart the history and holdings of the Archive
to the public.
Today the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv is able to
use its resources in manifold cultural and scientific ways. Much of the
traditional music preserved here can be found only fragmentarily in the
countries of its origin. International demand for these sound documents
is constantly increasing. Enquiries from institutions throughout the
world testify to the continued growing interest in cooperation, exchange
and, above all, the cultural historic significance of the Archive’s
collection. In many cases, the recordings have been handed over to
foreign institutions in the place of their origin. Publishing parts of
the Archive’s collection, phonograms as well as tape recordings, in the
form of CDs with appropriate documentation, also opens the Archive up to
the public as well as to the scientist.
Looking back upon a long
tradition in Berlin, the huge collection has many purposes to serve.
Besides receiving many musicologists and other guests, the
Phonogramm-Archiv has increasingly become a source in the field of
non-European music for other museums as well as radio, television and
film companies, teachers and interested music lovers.
Richard Thurnwald making phonographic recordings in East Africa (1930).
Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz.
Sources and additional information:
Artur Simon (Hg./Ed.): Das Berliner
Phonogramm-Archiv. Sammlungen der traditionellen Musik der Welt. / The
Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv 1900-2000. Collections of Traditional Music of
the World. VWB - Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, Berlin 2000.
Berlin, Gabriele/Artur Simon (Eds.): Music Archiving
in the World. Papers Presented at the Conference on the Occasion of the
100th Anniversary of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv. 520 p.+1 CD. VWB - Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, Berlin 2002.
CD-Konvolut: Music! 100 Recordings • 100 Years of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv 1900-2000.
Eds. Artur Simon & Ulrich Wegner. 4 CDs + 284 page booklet (engl.).
Museum Collection/WERGO SM 1701 2. Preis der Deutschen
Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv – Historische
Klangdokumente/Historical Sound Documents No. 1: Walzenaufnahmen
japanischer Musik (1901-1913)/ Wax Cylinder Recordings of Japanese Music
(1901-1913). Text: Ingrid Fritsch. Eds.: Artur Simon/: Susanne
Ziegler. CD + 96 p. booklet (German/engl.), transcriptions, photos.
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz BPhA-WA 1 2003.
Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik.
No. 2: Walzenaufnahmen aus Peru 1910 – 1925/ Grabaciones en cilindro del Perú 1910 – 1925. Texts:
Virginia Yep, Bernd Schmelz. Ed.: Susanne Ziegler. CD + 80 p. booklet
(German/span.), transcriptions, photos. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin –
Preußischer Kulturbesitz BPhA-WA 2 2003.