BEST MUSEUMS IN PARIS

Museo Civico in Rovereto, but it was abandoned around the year 2000 and the artefacts were put into storage at the local opera house, the Teatro Zandonai. A museum at the birthplace in Ce-sis of the Latvian composer Alfreds Kalnins (1879-1951) closed in the 1990s. Some Czech sources list museums in their native towns to Zdenek Fibich and Frantisek Ondfteek, but these are pious hopes rather than realities; the town of Sobeslav is planning to honour the composer and conductor Otakar Ostrcil (1879-1935), who had a summer home there, with a permanent display including a reproduction of his study in the municipal museum (in the Namesti Republiky). In Romania, at Leordeni, a museum to Dinu Lipatti, who was a composer as well as a pianist, opened in his former country home in 1985, but in 1999 it was raided by gypsies and largely emptied. The small Salzburg museum to Peter Singer in the Franciscan monastery still exists, but only skeletally: the main musical exhibits were sent to a monastery in the Tyrol for storage. In France, the house of Deodat de Severac (1872-1921) at Saint-Felix-Lauragais, in the Haute-Garonne between Carcassonne and Toulouse, was for a time maintained as a museum but the family members living there recently decided to admit no more visitors.

There are a few museums that are closed for the time being, with hopes of reopening. In Grodkow, in southern Poland, the birthplace of Chopin’s teacher Jozef Elsner at 8 ulica J. Elsnera, in the old part of the town, became a museum in 1996 but closed in 2001 for renovation. The house where Szymanowski spent much of his youth, in Kirovohrad in Ukraine, is in poor condition but may in time be used to commemorate him. There was a Mascagni museum in his native Livorno, at via Calzabigi 54, but the space it occupied, the gatehouse of the Biblioteca La Bronica, was needed for the offices of an aquarium and it closed in 2002 pending the allocation of new premises. The Smetana museum at Obnstvi was severely damaged by the floods of summer 2002 and awaits extensive repair and renovation.

BEST MUSEUMS IN PARIS Photo Gallery



There have long been plans for a Prokofiev museum at his flat in Moscow and its opening, long delayed, is likely in 2005. The cellist Mstislav Rostropovich has worked hard and given generously towards the planning of new museums in St Petersburg to Musorgsky and Shostakovich; others have hopes for a Tchaikovsky museum there, in the flat where he died, and memorial rooms will soon open in his Moscow flat. There are also plans for a Taneyev museum on the former family estate near Klin, which was largely demolished; it would take the materials that at present are exhibited in an outbuilding of the Tchaikovsky museum nearby. In Bulgaria, there are hopes for a house museum to Pancho Vladigerov in the southern suburb of Sofia, where he lived; and in Serbia, at Novi Becsej, a new museum to Josef

Marinkovic is contemplated close to the site of his birthplace to take the collection at present exhibited in a school. In Zagreb, the flat at 15 Mesnicka in the upper town that was once the home of the cellist and composer Rudolf Matz (1919-88), little touched since his widow’s death in 1998, may become a museum in due course (he is featured in the city museum, but as a distinguished sprinter; one photograph shows him with his cello but there is no reference to him as a composer). In Switzerland, the marital home of Belle van Zuylen at Colombier, near Neuchatel, is privately owned but is used for events relating to her and the possibility has been raised of a museum there; and there could at some point be a commemoration of Paul Hindemith at his former chalet in Blonay, now the Hindemith-Musikzentrum. In Germany, there will at some point be a Henselt room in the local museum at his birthplace, Schwabach, near Nuremberg. In France, parts of Poulenc’s 16th-century house at Noizay, above the Loire near Tours, are still very much as they were at his death in 1963 and there is at least the potential for a museum at some date. Puccini’s last home, a villa he built in Viareggio, is now owned by a foundation which plans to create a museum in it, the fourth to him in the region. Richard Strauss’s villa at Garmisch-Partenkirchen is still used by his grandsons but is expected to become a museum after their time, and Dvorak’s Villa Rusalka at Vysoka u Pnbram, also still in the family, may do so too. So might Ralph Lundsten’s lush ‘pink castle’ overlooking the Stockholm archipelago.

Museums lovingly maintained by a composer’s family may not survive their passing unless safeguards have been put in place. Some, such as the Wildgans house at Modling, are protected by a government edict on properties lived in by national figures: the family and future owners are obliged to maintain it in perpetuity. Part of the flat in Moscow that was once the home of Reyngol’d Glier is maintained in his memory, with his piano, his awards and a massive collection of photographs, but it is also lived in by his granddaughter and her family. How long such memorials as the Lyudkevych flat at L’viv, the Revuts’ky flat in Kiev or Saar’s house in Hupassaare will outlive their present occupants must be uncertain. There are, then, new possibilities, but also new threats.

Taking a longer view Composer museums present a number of challenges, to their owners and their visitors alike. Most are sited arbitrarily, determined by accidents of birth. Many are in remote country areas, difficult or impossible of access by public transport. Some of their buildings are primitive and ill-suited to public display, and (ironically) renovation would damage or destroy the contact with its celebrated inhabitant that gives the site its value. Often the structure, design and fabric are already changed beyond recognition; only the location will have meaning, and that may have changed radically too. Many rural places of birth, residence or death, however, have often changed little, especially in the parts of central and eastern Europe where many composer museums lie and economic ‘progress’ has been slow – although that may also mean that the depredations of time will have been worse. Urban sites can be no less problematic because of opportunistic developers: the buildings in which Mozart and Beethoven died, for example, have long since disappeared altogether.

Even where composers’ houses are adequately preserved, and are accessible to visitors, it is not often that private houses are fitted to become museums. They are generally too small to accommodate, along with historically significant rooms and display space, the necessary service facilities: offices, stores, shop, cloakrooms and the like, not to mention rooms large enough for musical performances. Several have managed to expand by acquiring neighbouring premises (as with the Handel museums in both Halle and London, the Mozart and Beethoven birthplaces and the Berlioz and Kodaly museums), and where land space was available some have built into it, as at Troldhaugen and Klin, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Their ability to expand, and indeed to remain open over many years, depends of course on their financial resources. Many composer museums receive support from local, regional or national governments, and some from established foundations, but many, created by small groups of enthusiasts, are dependent on revenue and private help, and in no small measure on volunteer staffing and assistance. With limited publicity and promotion, they attract only modest numbers of visitors and therefore a very limited income. Many struggle to cover their running costs and essential maintenance. Municipal and regional funding is rarely available to enable improvements. As tourism expands, so do expectations: visitors to composer museums bring with them the experience of a wider, more international spectrum of historic house museums, many of them on a grander scale, better funded and more professionally run.

It is a source of surprise that so few who think of themselves as lovers of music have taken time to visit composer museums; but then, composer museums, or rather composers’ homes and the collections they house, are poorly served in the traditional literature of music. Few composer biographies are informative about their subject’s place of birth or residence, and any photographs are rarely accompanied by commentary. The importance of place has only lately come to be considered by writers and scholars, perhaps partly through the sense of the visual fostered by television. In the scholarly literature the treatment of commemoration has been little addressed until recently. Isolated examples elsewhere apart, it is the Viennese who have led the way, from Otto Erich Deutsch to Rudolf Klein, H.C. Robbins Landon, Otto Biba and Walter Brauneis, and one may also cite articles on Lully and Paris by Marcelle Benoit and Harrison J. Wignall’s In Mozart’s Footsteps. There are also useful books on musical commemorations in particular cities, especially Vienna, Paris and London, as cited in the bibliographies to the composer entries.

In the circumstances, it is not surprising that the majority of composer museums lack professional curators, let alone ones with the desirable musico-logical background. Any professionally trained musicians in museums tend to work on collections of instruments, where their technical expertise is essential. There exists an International Committee of Musical Instrument Museums, under the aegis of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), which promotes debate on issues of concern, sharing expertise and raising their institutions’ profile. For curators of house museums and ‘personality’ museums there are further ICOM committees, one devoted to historic house museums and another to literary museums, but none at present for composer museums.

Few European countries have a museum service that offers complete, up-to-date information on musical historical sites. The Czech Republic has an organization in Prague which administers several museums and provides professional expertise to others, and in Russia there is a supervising body in the Glinka State Central Museum in Moscow. If the musical public is poorly informed about these sites, it is partly because curators and owners have yet to establish effective lines of communication with their colleagues. From time to time museums become vulnerable to proposals for other uses for their sites and the resources required to maintain them. And yet, as reflections of national, regional and local cultural identity, they are often the focus of enormous pride. Beyond surveying what has survived to the beginning of the 21st century and encouraging musical tourism, we hope that this book will initiate a more informed debate on how best to safeguard this part of our European musical heritage.

Maybe You Like Them Too

Leave a Reply

59 − 52 =