Of course archival holdings are regularly mislaid, and not just in Vienna. It would be unremarkable were Gottfried von Einem’s copy of an unpublished page from the Adagio of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, missing from the Musikverein archive (the repository for the von Einem estate), to turn up in, say, the Notenarchiv of the Theater an der Wien, and just as unsurprising that nobody has traced it yet. These matters tend to require either serendipity or inexhaustible patience, and rarely do whole batches of documents turn up so conveniently intact, as in the case of the missing Jerger papers. It should also be considered atypical that a review limited to the Philharmoniker archive led in such short a time to the darkest recesses of the Vienna State Opera.
At its worst this is one of those gemütlich Viennese arrangements whereby reputations are upheld and faces saved in return for a settlement previously withheld. In the Ernst Hilmar case the Wienbibliothek attempted something similar and was eventually called out for it. The immediate consequences are a senseless waste of time for Fritz Trümpi, whose book is now in some part next to useless without substantial revision, and self-inflicted difficulties for Clemens Hellsberg, who did indeed open up the orchestra’s past for discussion but has nevertheless since obstructed further research.
Some plausible explanation for this discovery that does not doubt the credibility of certain individuals involved would have to be highly elaborate, particularly as the director of the Staatsoper archive waded into this controversy back in January, adamantly denying – so it ironically turns out, with misplaced certainty – the existence of hidden documents. This all reinforces a point I made in my earlier post, that responsible archivists are wise not to issue such blanket statements.
I wrote that the Jerger discovery will set in motion a rewriting of the orchestra’s wartime history as it presently stands, a none too dramatic presumption given the manner in which the Austrian National Library’s recent acquisition of a ‘Konvolut’ relating to former Staatsoperndirektor Erwin Kerber has lent a greyer complexion to the political history of the Vienna State Opera from 1936-40 (documents already the focus of an informative essay by Musiksammlung director Thomas Leibnitz and further research since). The only revelation granted to us in the New York Times is however concerned, in a ploy straight out of the Hellsberg playbook (see the foot of this post), with all of the white and none of the black. This fits cosily with the sympathetic tone of the article but is unlikely to be borne out by the remaining documentation.
This leads to the broader consequences of the archival review, which will in all probability demonstrate that some pages on a website are no substitute for a thoroughly researched historical study. A revision to Trümpi’s book, judging by the first edition, will not provide the same perspective a music historian would bring either. While the New York Times reports that the orchestra has ‘reacted quickly’ to claims of obstruction, the truth is that feet have been dragged over archival access for many years, and until recently the lead historian in the current review, Oliver Rathkolb, was Clemens Hellsberg’s fiercest critic on the issue. We may have something now that would dearly love to be called a ‘Historikerkommission’, but in 2008 Hellsberg promised full access to Rathkolb’s students and yet since 2009 two senior academics have been given the runaround. We have been down this path before, and the present media circus, with its puff pieces and televised documentaries and overriding concern for self-image, is showing itself to be a diversion. All that is needed from Clemens Hellsberg now is a guarantee that no further researcher will have cause to complain that their work at the archive has been hindered.