Early Years

Philipp Spitta

Collection Paul de Wit


Collection Snoeck


Institut für deutsche Musikforschung

Rebuilding of the collection at the »Berlin Kulturforum«

The history of the »Berlin Musikinstrumenten-Museum« dates back to 1888, the year in which the »Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente« was founded by Philipp Spitta and Joseph Joachim at what at the time was called the »Königliche akademische Hochschule«. The basis of the collection consisted of 34 instruments of the Kunstgewerbemuseum which earlier had been part of the inventory of the Prussian art chamber. In addition, 240 instruments which were acquired from Paul de Wit, a publisher and music dealer from Leipzig, enlarged the collection. As early as 1890, a second substantial collection of old musical instruments was acquired from Paul de Wit. Among those instruments was the world famous »Bach-harpsichord.«

  Oskar Fleischer, first director of the museum (1892-1919), succeeded in making the largest acquisition for the »Berlin Musikinstrumenten-Museum«: In 1902, he was able to acquire the private collection of César Snoeck, a lawyer from Ghent, with the financial support of the Prussian crown. Outstanding exhibits of this unique collection of 1145 instruments are the four harpsichords by Ruckers, made in the world famous workshop of that family in the first half of the 17th century, as well as one of the few preserved original transverse flutes by Jean Hotteterre.

Under the direction of   Curt Sachs (director of the museum from 1919 to 1933), the first complete scientific catalogue of the Berlin collection was published in 1922 which to this day forms the basis for many publications in the field of organology.
Curt Sachs provided the collection with a scientific agenda and international acknowledgement.

After the National Socialists had forced him into exile the collection of musical instruments was separated from the »Staatliche Hochschule für Musik« in 1935 and incorporated into the »Staatliches Institut für deutsche Musikforschung«. The other institution incorporated was the »Fürstliches Institut für musikwissenschaftliche Forschung« in Bückeburg. At the beginning of World War II, the collection of the »Musikinstrumenten-Museum« counted more than 4,000 instruments.

At the end of the war, the collection had diminished to only 700 instruments.   Alfred Berner (director and head of the museum from 1945 to 1975), who at the same time revived the »Institut für Musikforschung«, succeeded in establishing the collection as one of the world’s leading museums of musical instruments despite scarce funding. He also founded a comprehensive music library with one focus on - among others - organology.

In 1984, the Musikinstrumenten-Museum as part of the SIMPK moved to its   own premises at the Kemperplatz next to the Philharmonic Hall. The building was put up by Edgar Wisniewski in accordance with designs by Hans Sharoun and is part of the Berlin Kulturforum. In the spacious and light-flooded   showroom about 800 of the 3,200 total instruments belonging to the Berlin collection are on display.

Numerous special exhibitions deliver insights into current research and restoration activities of the museum. In addition, concerts bring the sound of the many playable instruments from the collection (or of copies true to the original) to the audience.