Editions, their number and kind, provide insight into the transmission of the music and ultimately its popularity. Hidden between its covers, printed music cannot easily be appreciated when displayed in a glass case. Title-pages may embody interesting information that can be easily read and related to other objects on display, but they are not themselves ‘the work of art’. Inside, the printed music represents a stage between the act of composition and its performance and can be viewed only a page at a time or on two facing pages. It is hardly surprising, then, that the display of music can in some senses be disappointing. But alongside musical scores many museums display relevant excerpts from diaries and correspondence, posters, programmes and published reviews of early performances which provide useful, sometimes unique, contextual clues to its interpretation.
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There are museums that focus on single compositions, most obviously the Gruber sites. There are two sites for Kienzl’s once-famous opera Der Evangelimann, the chalet by the hotel at Aussee where he composed it and the museum at Paudorf overlooking the church at the centre of the drama. The displays in the museums devoted to the Romanians Pann and Porumbescu make much of their patriotic compositions, and the Lysenko museum in Kiev emphasizes his nationalist opera Taras Bul’ba. The Handel House in London, where Messiah was composed in 1741, displays a portrait of the librettist Charles Jennens and a letter he received from Handel referring to Messiah that contribute unique details to our impressions of the circumstances of its composition. Other museums that celebrate their association with particular works include Haydn’s house in Vienna (The Creation), the Bertramka house in Prague (Mozart’s Don Giovanni), Beethoven’s former lodging in Baden (the Ninth Symphony), E.T.A. Hoffmann’s house in Bamberg (Undine), two Wagner residences, at Graupa (Lohengrin) and Lucerne (Siegfried Idyll), and the Enescu memorial at Tescani (his opera Oedipe). The link between d’Indy’s chateau in the Ardeche and his Symphonie sur un chant montagnard frangais is less explicit, though apparent enough in the light of its setting, and that between Dvorak’s lodging at Zlonice and his First Symphony is no more than nominal. Understandably, at the memorial house at Heiligenstadt more emphasis is placed on the famous testament that Beethoven wrote than on the music he composed there, which includes the Second Symphony. A few houses are known by musical sobriquets, but it is worth noting that the displays at the Figarohaus and the Eroicahaus in Vienna are not confined to their eponymous works.
Certain houses come to be associated with a wider creative legacy by virtue of a composer’s long residence there. The Handel House in London is again one of these; his 36 years in the same place may constitute some sort of record. Others include Brahms’s summer lodging at Lichtental, on the edge of Baden-Baden, and Puccini’s hunting lodge at Torre del Lago. Brahms spent ten summers at Lichtental while Clara Schumann resided nearby and many of the works he composed there have links with her circle. At Torre del Lago Puccini worked on Tosca, Madama Butterfly and La fanciulla del West, and
Rakhmaninov wrote his first two symphonies, his second and third piano concertos and his greatest choral works at Ivanovka.
Few composer museums are equipped to mount temporary exhibitions that would enable them to focus on different musical topics. Among the institutions that do so are the Bach and Mendelssohn museums in Leipzig, the Wagner one at Bayreuth, the Grieg at Troldhaugen, the Archivo Manuel de Falla in Granada, the Richard-Strauss-Institut in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Schoenberg museum in Vienna. They are able to draw on their own substantial collections and have sufficient visitors, display facilities and resources to develop and promote their exhibitions. The varied approach to each of the exhibitions at the Richard-Strauss-Institut sets a particularly high standard.
Instruments and music-making The instruments the composer owned and played are usually on display, though very few can be kept in playing condition. (For a fine collection of ‘authentic’ keyboard instruments with direct links to composers and mostly in playing order, the visitor should go to the Cobbe Collection, at Hatchlands, Surrey; or, for a series of rooms with instruments from different composers’ times, to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.) Although the ‘Neue Haydn-Orgel’ on display at Eisenstadt can no longer be played, it remains an object of fascination because Beethoven is known to have played it in the first performance of his Mass in C.
The accepted practice in museums is to differentiate between instruments that have always been maintained in playing condition and those that haven’t. Instruments that have remained unrestored are of study value to scholars, instrument makers and ‘period’ performers, as radical maintenance work or refurbishing would involve the loss of historical evidence. As a compromise, some museums owning historic or generally unusable instruments have commissioned recordings on the original instruments as well as replica instruments, which can of course be played in concerts. But live performances and demonstrations in museums are at best occasional. Most museums lack the necessary facilities and resources. Nevertheless, composers’ instruments, like their manuscripts, are closely associated with the creative process and the opportunity to examine and experience in some way these primary artefacts (for example, the piano Holst used when composing The Planets) can be one of the lasting thrills of a visit. Several museums preserve recordings, from piano rolls to CDs, of performances by the composer himself.
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