On the Nature of Research at the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung

The Staatliche Institut für Musikforschung (SIM) is the largest non-university research institution for musicology in Germany. The Institute encompasses a library and a musical instruments museum. The coexistence and integration of research institution and museum is what makes the State Institute for Music Research so unique. The scholars of the Institute work in a variety of musicological sub-disciplines: Historical musicology, interpretation and performance research, instrumentology, musicological documentation, recording media research, acoustics and musical perception research. This diversity corresponds to a concept of multiperspectivity that focuses on the sonic phenomenon of performed music as the object of music research, of which it considers every conceivable aspect. The multidisciplinary structure of the SIM gives it the requisite expertise to address the complexity of the musical phenomenon in its various dimensions. Our inquiry extends to all levels of musical communication – author, work, performer, instrument, spatiality, sound transmission, listener – and their relation to one another. In this respect, the Institute’s research interests also encompass the physically and psychologically describable aspects of the sonic realization of music.


Looking to the future, the Institute has a three-pronged development strategy that draws on the unique contributions of each of its three departments, accentuating the innovative potential of their respective areas of specialization. Department I is currently developing a fundamentally new design for the permanent exhibition of the Musical Instruments Museum grounded in its latest research. Department II is working on a concept for newly expanded scientific-bibliographical services, as well as of the documentation of concert life, while Department III is pushing ahead with its empirical research on the performance and perception of music.

Interpretation Research

Musical interpretation research at the SIM is founded on the notion of the sonic event as a multi-layered phenomenon. Currently, its work is ongoing on a large-scale History of Musical Interpretation in the 19th and 20th Centuries, which is due to be published in four volumes between 2019 and 2025.  The layout of the project itself reflects the breadth of perspectives it encompasses: I. Aesthetics – Ideas, II. Institutions – Media, III. Aspects – parameters (such as tempo, dynamics and timbre, instrument, voice, body, spaces), IV. Persons – Styles – Concepts. This is the first major consolidated account of the history of musical interpretation over the last two centuries, with contributions from over 40 domestic and international authors. In terms of the diversity of approaches represented there, no comparable work exists internationally to date.

SIM researchers are involved in all aspects of the publication, either conceptually or with their own contributions. The project was discussed and shaped in the SIM Scientific Advisory Board over an extended period as the central research focus of the Institute. Inauguration of the project marked a paradigm shift in research at the SIM.


The plan is to expand the print publication with two volumes on the history of interpretation of various repertoires. Ultimately, all research results and supplementary material will be published online..

Object-based research

The central research activities of the Musical Instruments Museum concern instrumentology (organology), the history of instrumentology as a discipline of musicology, questions of historically informed performance practice and research into interpretation, provenance research on the museum's own holdings, preventive conservation, and aspects of restoration, and restoration and conservation techniques of historical musical instruments. Work is underway on a new concept for the permanent exhibition that will share the findings of our research with the general public through cultural education programs and services.

The focus is on object-based research on musical instruments from the 16th to 21st centuries, the results of which are to be published in the museum's scholarly catalogs on individual instrument families, in exhibition catalogs, in monographs, and in networked databases. Cooperative projects with the collections in Nuremberg (Germanisches Nationalmuseum), Leipzig (Musikinstrumenten-Museum), Munich (Deutsches Museum), and Berlin (Musikabteilung des Ethnologischen Museums) underscore the importance of networked research for the Musikinstrumenten-Museum. This kind of collaboration is modelled in the DFG-Project MUSICES (3D-CTs of musical instruments), ), a grant applied for by the Germanisches Nationalmuseum together with the two Berlin collections and the Leipzig Museum of Musical Instruments. Increasingly, multi-perspectivity is becoming the standard mode of inquiry. Narratives, stories, and cultural practices in which instruments of European art music play an essential role are explored in collaboration with art historians, literary scholars, sociologists, and natural scientists. Visiting scholars, working at the SIM within the scope of the SPK's scholarship program, complement and enrich the research, while individual internships for students of musicology and restoration studies serve to promote early-career scholars.

Our research in the field of electric and electronic musical instruments will be intensified and expanded in the coming years. The museum's inventory of approximately 50 historical objects in its permanent exhibition will be gradually augmented within the scope of this strategic measure to reflect the range of electronic sound generation in historical and musical context. Especially in this collection area (but also in others), digital indexing of all available sources (objects, documents, sound archives, secondary literature) is a central concern.

SIM's broad infrastructure is available to the museum's scientific staff for all their research activities. Research on objects belonging to the museum is facilitated by materials and documents from its holdings, including the image archive (with a rich collection of pictorial documents, drawings, restoration reports and graphics), the specialized library of the SIM with its focus on instrumental studies, the restoration workshop, and the recording studio in Department III.


Digitization of all objects and archival material as part of the digital transformation; closer integration of research with the other two departments of the SIM, among others, as part of the project "History of Musical Interpretation". Innovative ways of presenting research results (outreach, education) in consistently high quality and quantity. Collaboration with the SIM's acoustics department on questions of sound analysis and the sound behavior of historical musical instruments in contemporary spaces.

Source-based research

The edition of the Briefwechsel der Wiener Schule (Correspondence of the Viennese School) forms a focal point of the work of the Institute's history department. With the expansion of the main correspondence between Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern to include the correspondence of performers of their music and further correspondence of members of the Viennese School, the SIM aims not only to strengthen a core competence in the publication of historical-critical editions of musicians' letters, but, in cooperation with other projects (Weber-Gesamtausgabe, the Busoni Edition of the Humboldt University) and while maintaining a high editorial standards, to develop a strategy to make available and cross reference (corresp­Search, BBAW) digitized editions.

The Department of Musicological Documentation at SIM is breaking new editorial ground with the historical-critical publication of sound documents. The development of source-related guidelines, documentation standards and sustainable forms of archiving and presentation is being tested in the pilot project "Sound Documents of the Viennese School".


The radical transformation and expansion of the concept of music requires, in turn, the extension and revision of the dominant concept of a linear historiography of theory that must inform our continued work on the History of Music Theory in the 20th century. The dissolution of boundaries between the arts and the expansion of the concept of music create the opportunity to systematically integrate the competencies of fellow institutions of the SPK, such as the Hamburger Bahnhof and the Ethnological Museum, into the project of a history of music theory in the 20th century and to work together to develop appropriate forms of presentation of our research results.

Research resources

The central scientific service of the State Institute for Music Research is the Bibliography of Musical Literature (BMS), the international, interactive and freely accessible bibliography for musicology research. Since 2006, it has been published online by the SIM, in continuation of the printed edition dating back to 1988. At present, the BMS lists more than 430,000 publications related to music (status: November 2020). Since 1968, the bibliographical editorial staff of the Institute has also worked as the German editorial staff for the Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM).


Taking our own database as its starting point, the goal of the project "BMS plus" is to use the search engine index "K10plus-Zentral" to create a vastly extended, continually updated and comprehensive bibliography of musicological research. We will draw on existing open-access, full-text repositories, and freely accessible metadata to this end. This measure is in line with the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities of October 22, 2003, of which the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation is a co-signatory, and with the recommendation for the implementation of the Berlin Declaration of November 2013.

We strive to deepen existing cooperation agreements and enter into new ones with new institutions. In the future, we hope to establish a cooperation network of all interested institutions on a bibliography of musicological research. The medium-term goal is to consolidate SIM's status as an aggregator of such bibliographic data in Germany, explicitly supporting the principles and publication strategies of open access.

The project "Archive of Concert Life" is dedicated to the preservation, digitization and analytical recording of traditionally undervalued sources, such as concert programs, reviews and relevant sound recordings of classical Western art music. The primary source for the enterprise, the SIM's collection of programs, includes some 12,000 concert, opera, theater, and revue programs from the 1770s to the 1990s, predominantly from Berlin but also from other cities and countries. Some collections have a unique character, while others include programs for show venues about which we know nothing today. The aim of the project is to preserve these documents with appropriate conservation techniques, to make them publicly visible and usable, and, in turn, to validate their significance as historical documents.

Another important achievement of the project is the digitization of the concert guide, Führer durch die Konzertsäle Berlin, founded by Gotthard Schierse. The entire collection has been digitized, given meta and structural data, and published online as theConcert Guide Collection, Berlin-Brandenburg 1920-2012. In approx. 1,900 booklets, the Berlin concert dates between 1920 and 2012 are indexed in the form of announcements and can be searched in full text, making the collection an extensive resource not only for scholarly work, but for every interested music lover in the city.

As an additional user interface, we have created the "Topography of Berlin Concert Life 1880-1945" to provide alternative access to the data of the concert life project in the form of a geographic or spatial information system. To date, the interactive map lists about 250 historical geographical locations, such as ministries, educational institutions, music publishers, musical instrument makers, concert halls and residences of performers and composers.

The Subproject on the Viennese School aims to use the corpus of source material on the performance theory of the Viennese School as an example to demonstrate how written evidence on performance practice and musical interpretation can be collected in digital form and made searchable, annotatable and linkable online using current knowledge management techniques.


Our goal is to consolidate and expand the project, initially, in three specific areas:

Audio module: Completion of the audio material database begun in 2016, cataloging of existing and newly digitized audio material to be produced at the SIM studio's dubbing [SvB1] facilities. Associated with this project is the work in Department I referred to as "Discology", or philological research on the sources of sound recordings. Whereas there the focus was primarily on sociological methods of interpretation, in the future the focus will be on establishing a solid discographic foundation, as well as an appropriate catalog model, and on developing practical criteria for a philologically correct representation of historical audio documents in the digital domain.

Standard data: Network-wide improvement of the Common Standard File (GND) by revising and re-entering standard institution and person-specific data on musical life; testing Linked Open Data concepts for cross-referencing the "Archive of Concert Life" with other reference systems.

Digitization of biographical reference works: We will digitize important biographical reference works of musical life in Germany from the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century for the "Archive of Concert Life".

Research on music transmission and perception

The Institute's interest in the sonic realization of music and aspects of musical interpretation guides the focus of our research in the field of systematic musicology. Since not only artistic performance in the narrower sense (primary interpretation), but also a variety of factors – such as decisions about performance spaces and positioning, about sound direction, sound montage and sound balance, in the case of music transmission, and even listeners' decisions about playback arrangements and situations – can be understood as acts of interpretation, the effect of these variables is primarily investigated through experiment. For this purpose, empirical survey and analysis methods of psychology and the social sciences are combined with acoustic and electroacoustic methods of stimulus generation. Thus, for example, in the recently completed DFG project "Audio-Visual Perception of Acoustical Environments" the use of virtual reality (virtual concert hall) allowed researchers to generate optoacoustic conflict stimuli that provide psychologically fundamental information about the significance of hearing and seeing performance spaces for auditory, visual, aesthetic and geometric aspects of music perception. Similarly, virtual acoustics were used to investigate the effect of the acoustic and visual properties of home loudspeakers. Methods of digital signal processing were used in the study of the effect of acoustic vinyl record artifacts.


The technical, artistic, and psychological factors influencing musical perception that have been investigated to date, such as interpretation, performance space, sound design, playback system and listening situation, are to be expanded to include instrumental, communicative, social-psychological, and music-sociological factors, e.g. the restoration status of instruments, the musical expression of emotions or the functional use of music. The broader questions entail an expansion of our methodological inventory, so that the use of qualitative methods in the future complement the use of quantitative empirical and physical methods. Simulation of musical scenes through virtual reality as a research and mediation tool will continue, but the use of non-simulated musical stimuli (e.g., experimental concerts) may also be methodologically appropriate to specific research questions. This also applies to the investigation of other parameters, e.g., behavior, expression, and physiological response, using appropriate investigative tools (e.g., motion tracking, EMG), which make it possible to distinguish between perceived and felt emotions, for example. The institute has a large number of acoustic facilities (Curt Sachs hall, sound control room, sound studio, reverberation chamber, anechoic chamber, virtual concert hall, playback room for historical recording media) available for research purposes contingent upon the availability of qualified personnel.


Dr. Rebecca Wolf

Director of the Institute

+49 30 254 81 100


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