Nasty little men, leapfrogging Philharmoniker and other treasures

A look into the archive of the Berliner Philharmoniker

For the past four decades, Jutta March has curated the archive
of the Berliner Philharmoniker with passionate dedication.
(Photo: Frederike van der Straeten)

She is the woman who has played a key role from the beginning: 40 years ago, librarian Jutta March was tasked with setting up and looking after the Berliner Philharmoniker’s archive on a voluntary basis. Today, the collection is spread across several locations and employs a full-time archivist. However, Jutta March is still the heart and soul of this treasure trove. We visit her in the depths of the Philharmonie, where some of the Philharmoniker’s artefacts are stored – and look back at her long years of service.

Forty years ago, you became the archivist for the Berliner Philharmoniker’s newly-founded archive. How did you get this job?

At the time, I was in charge of the library of the Staatliche Institut für Musikforschung (State Institute for Music Research), which had moved into the new building next to the Philharmonie in 1983, together with the Berlin Musical Instruments Museum. I was helping to set up the library, and was kneeling on the floor, putting up shelves. Suddenly my boss stood next to me with two Berliner Philharmoniker members, and said: “We have a job for you! Could you also take care of the Berliner Philharmoniker's archive?”

What went through your mind at that moment?

At first I protested, because my library work was already taking up all my time. On the other hand, the task appealed to me, because I am a big fan of the Philharmoniker. For years, I had been part of the so-called “queuing club”, who stood in line at the box office for days before tickets went on sale. Also, I didn’t really have a choice. It was already decided that I should take care of the archive – in my free time and on a voluntary basis. In return, I no longer had to queue for concert tickets, and instead received a subscription for all concerts. And later I was also allowed to go on concert tours.

What was the biggest challenge for you at the beginning?

First, I had to get an overview. There were so many different things: programme leaflets and booklets, posters, photos, press articles, autographs, sound recordings, memorabilia... The first thing I did was to come up with a system for organising the material. My work as a qualified librarian helped me a lot with this. I started with the autographs, which include letters from Hans Pfitzner. He was viewed as a kind of nasty little man. I found his letters particularly amusing.

Berliner Philharmoniker enjoy a game of leapfrog
during a tour in 1928.
(Photo: Archiv Berliner Philharmoniker)

The Alte Philharmonie was bombed during the war and much was lost. What was able to be salvaged?

It’s amazing what survived – despite the losses. During the bombing raid, musicians who were on guard duty were able to drag some things out of the burning building. Many of the Philharmoniker’s personal belongings also survived the war. Later, appeals were published in the Philharmonische Blätter, the audience magazine of the time, as well as in daily newspapers, asking people to search their attics for any surviving material relating to the Berliner Philharmoniker. Over the years, a lot was collected from donations and bequests. However, we owe the core of the archive to former violist Peter Muck’s passion for collecting.

Letter of Hans Pfitzner
(Photo: Frederike van der Straeten)

What are the oldest and most interesting items in the archive?

The earliest documents include, for example, the programme leaflet from 17 October 1882, in which the newly founded orchestra calls itself the “Philharmonisches Orchester” for the first time. We have some photos from the Alte Philharmonie and photos from early concert tours. Wilhelm Furtwängler’s conducting scores are also very interesting. Then there are the death masks of Hans von Bülow and Wilhelm Furtwängler, as well as various batons from former chief conductors.

What image of the Berliner Philharmoniker do you have from studying all these documents?

I’m sure most people think that the Philharmoniker has always been so magnificent, and earned vast amounts of money. But no, it wasn’t like that. The early years in particular were very hard work.

The amount of work the musicians did then! They had to accept every opportunity to earn money. Their tours in the early years were incredibly exhausting. You can see in the early tour photos that the musicians took every opportunity to have a little fun. In one of the photos, for example, you can see them enjoying themselves playing leapfrog.

Violist Walter Küssner from the orchestra is currently assisting with the archive. From the very beginning, there has been a collaboration between the collection and members of the Berliner Philharmoniker. How does this collaboration work?

The older generation of the Philharmoniker in particular was and is very interested in our archive. The musicians bring things they find at home; they visit auctions and browse through second-hand bookshops.

Actually, they could have retired long ago. But they continue to be involved with the archive. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on a folder of concert advertisments from the 1920s, which I'm organising and collating. These are so-called “popular concerts”, which have very interesting and distinctive programmes. I’ve seen a lot of exciting things over the years, and often thought: “Isn’t this fantastic, what you're holding in your hands now!” That’s why the work here fulfils me so much. This archive is a part of my life.

From precious to bizarre: exhibition in the south foyer

To mark the 40th anniversary of our archive, a small exhibition in the south foyer of the Philharmonie Berlin displays particularly impressive and interesting items from the collection. You can see it before the concert begins, or during the interval.