Biography of Kurt Sachs (1881-1959)

German musicologist born on June 29, 1881 in Berlin and died on February 5, 1959 in New York. It noted especially for his studies on musical instruments, which drew up a main catalogue used internationally. In addition, it contributed to the world of music important anthropological studies on the history of dance and cultural cycles theory, carried out studies on non-Western music, was a pioneer in ethnomusicology and wrote widely on the music of the ancient world. He also developed numerous studies about the rhythm, the tempo and the relationship of music to other arts. One of the most eminent musicologists, is considered not only for her master's degree in a variety of musical themes, but also by an integrator within this broad panorama view.

Sachs showed interest in music from an early age, hence, his parents took the decision that he received lessons in piano, theory and composition was still very young. However, time to decide where should guide his career, he chose studying art history. This position was surprising, since this specialty just it had relationship with music (just one of the subjects was about the same). Sachs graduated in history of art at the University of Berlin, where also passed her doctoral thesis.

On leaving the University, their first professional steps led him to the world of journalism, field where he made numerous collaborations as art critic. His most important contribution in those years was to the Monatshefte für kunstwissenschaftliche Literatur ('monthly for the science and art of literature'). While developing their critical work he got a position at the Museum of Arts and crafts in Berlin, where she worked as a historian. Despite the professional success, he was not satisfied with her life, and in 1909 it decided to devote the rest of his life to music. Even so, this did not mean a change of direction so sudden, since that, throughout his musical career, Sachs tried at all times relate the music with the story and the rest of the arts.

The outbreak of the first world war was a blow to their aspirations, but failed to turn off his desire to become a musicologist. After the conflict, he returned to his hometown, where soon he was given the position of director of the Staatliche Instrumentensammlung ('state collection of musical instruments'). This moment was key in his life, from the entry in that Department, grew up in him a greater interest in the nature and history of musical instruments. In his new position very extensive collection, reorganized at the time developing a huge work of restoration of the instruments that were in a worse state, so that they could be re-used. The effectiveness of their work in front of the collection made Berlin institutions be fixed on it to add it to their teaching staff. It was thus in the year 1928 was offered to give classes at the National Academy of music and at the University of Berlin, offers that Sachs could not refuse.

However, this time of happiness is over for Sachs with the coming to power of the National Socialist Party of Hitler. The fact that had Jewish origins made that it was included in lists of professors and intellectuals who should be prosecuted. The Nazi authorities dispossessed him of all his academic posts. The weight of events made to Sachs to take conscience that the only way that was left was the leave the country, since remain in Germany his life was in serious danger. In this way, he left Berlin to move first to Paris, where he began a long period of exile. In the French capital not had trouble finding a job, since his work in Germany was recognized in the European academic circles. Then he began working in an Ethnological Museum, together with André Schaeffner. Also the prestigious Sorbonne University offered him a visiting professor. In Paris he began to develop different research about ethnomusicology, which resulted in the series of recordings entitled Anthologie Sonore. To interpret the songs of these recordings, Sachs used original instruments of ancient and medieval age.

The definitive impulse to his career came in 1937, when the University of New York offered him to teach in their classrooms. Sachs did not hesitate to move to United States unable to return to their country. You would not regret having taken such a decision, since in the North American country managed to become an important international reputation. He remained at the head of the Chair of New York University until 1953, year in which he was offered a position at Columbia University. In New York City he also worked as a consultant in a public library. In this time of American exile, Sachs became one of the founding fathers of the modern organology (study of the nature and history of musical instruments) and collaborated with Erich von Hornbostel in order to practice a method of classification of musical instruments that serve as a guide for all performers.

He devoted much of his life to the publication of studies on music, both in German and in English, and was the first to reach reliable conclusions on the development of musical instruments from prehistory to the present day. Anthropological, historical and linguistic information he used for his studies. The musicology experts believe his book Real-Lexikon der Musikinstrumente, appeared in 1913, as the most important text written on the history of musical instruments. Its importance grew as the years passed since none of the studies conducted in this field has achieved eminence in their own. Some of his publications, in addition to the aforementioned, were: World dance history (1937), the birth of music in the ancient world (1943) and the Republic of art: the style in fine arts, music and dance (1946).

Links on the Internet

http://www.sohns-musica.com.ar/egipto.html; page dedicated to one of the texts of Sachs on Egypt (in Spanish).