First Years

The following history has been compiled by former President, Jeannine Lambrechts-Douillez, and written by her with contributions from other long-serving members of the Committee. It is intended that this history will continue to be recorded by subsequent Presidents.

Page content:

1. Before 1960
1.1 Effects of WWII on Museums
1.2 Beginnings of Professional Exchange in the Field of Musical Instruments
1.3 Foundation of CIMCIM

2. CIMCIM First Years

3. References

1.   BEFORE 1960

1.1 Effects of WWII on Museums
CIMCIM was formed in Paris on 1st of July 1960. This event must be considered in the post war years when the world was licking its wounds. Indeed a new way of warfare had made many wounds; war was felt throughout the whole occupied countries and not only on a battlefield. Human casualties were felt throughout the whole world. For the occupied countries the situation was that of a conquered land. Enemy and allied bombs fell in many cities with a great historical past.
When the war started, museums were closed in the occupied countries and the remaining personnel packed the objects to bring them safely in what they called bomb-free shelters. The occupying authorities “saved” important paintings from churches in order to find better places. Some of them were even transported to Germany in the salt mines, joining the private collections of Hitler, Goering and others. One of the striking examples is the world-famous painting by the Van Eyck brothers, the “Adoration of the Lamb” that was removed from the St.-Baafs cathedral in Ghent where it had been since it was created. It was luckily recovered from one of the salt mines, but before returning to its home it was exhibited in Brussels where many citizens and of course schoolchildren admired this masterpiece.
Other objects were not so lucky: they were simply destroyed by bombs. Many musical instruments were lost in Berlin. Destruction went even further in occupied countries, since war cost money and all efforts were pointing towards the final victory, food became scarce and was rationed. Of course, no imported goods were available. This was also the case for raw materials necessary for warfare because the “Blitzkrieg” lasted longer than expected and finally countries were no longer invaded. The need for copper and bronze was felt very soon and many bronze and copper objects were collected, even from private homes. A good source for this material was the bells in churches and chapels; many of them were never seen again.
Claiming for war damage was a very busy occupation. Searching for prisoners and fighting soldiers was done by the Red Cross, centralizing all efforts done by volunteers. For many unemployed citizens, new jobs had to be created. One of the projects concerned inventories of art; no qualifications were necessary as long as lists could be made in order to have an idea of what was left. Museum curators were not professionals (for the Brussels museum the care of the collection was given as a reward for services rendered to the country). A more professional approach required certain qualifications and posts had to be created. Meanwhile inventories were made with temporary personnel, the projects were financed by war recovery schemes. It was only in the beginning of the fifties that everything started to return to normal

1.2 Beginnings of Professional Exchange in the Field of Musical Instruments
Let us now consider musical instruments. This was a time when some museums considered musical instruments only as pieces of furniture or decorative arts with no attention for the intrinsic musical value necessary for the interpretation of music. Yet at the same time, other museums and musicians wanted to include the dimension of sound as part of the exhibition of musical instruments as the early music revival grew. Many musicians proposed that musical instruments in museums should sound at any cost. Musical instruments were not always respected as part of our cultural heritage, but rather as a tool serving musical purposes. Those working with musical instrument collections needed a firm grasp of knowledge in the areas of curatorial, conservation, history and music history.

As early as the 1950s it was felt that there was a need for an international organization where professionals involved with musical instruments could exchange their views on the maintenance of this particular part of our cultural heritage. Directors of the major European collections met informally at other international musicological meetings. In 1946 the Galpin Society was formed with the object of bringing together all those interested in research into the history of European musical instruments to commemorate the pioneer work of the late Canon Francis W. Galpin (1858-1945).
During a congress organised in 1953 in Bamberg by the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung, a committee for musical organology was formed to register musical instruments in German museums. By 1958 Alfred Berner of the Berlin museum and chairman of this committee, insisted that an international organization devoted entirely to musical instruments be created (BERNER 1981).
The request, as raised in my Bamberg paper, for comprehensive inventories of surviving historic instruments, for their appropriate conservation and their systematic cataloguing in much the way that they are considered self-evident for printed source material, could only be successfully and exhaustively materialized in the framework of an international organisation. Something had to be created comparable to the International Music Library Association which also held its conference in Bamberg. With this model before my eyes, I talked to the congress participant Vladimir Fédorow about means of how to establish a similar organisation for musical instruments and the corresponding collections.
Walter Nef kindly agreed to organize a meeting in Basel (Switzerland) but due to sudden illness this task was taken over by John Henry van der Meer who organized a first meeting at the Hague from 6 to 10 June 1959 as a “colloque des chefs de collections d’instruments de musique”‘. This meeting followed the Joint meeting of the Galpin Society and the International Association of Music Libraries in Cambridge from 29 June to 4 July 1959. The meeting at The Hague was organized at very short notice by John Henry van der Meer as a round table conference without anybody presiding. Representatives of 19 collections were present from 13 countries. They gave a survey on the situation of their museums.
At that time five organizations were considered as possibilities for establishing an international working group. For different reasons inherent on the aims of the different associations they were gradually eliminated. Most votes went to the establishment of a separate section within the Société Internationale de Musicologie, giving valuable basis for scientific work, but since no material assistance could be offered by this organization an affiliation within ICOM would be more indicated.
An invitation had already been presented by Georges-Henri Rivière, Director of ICOM, following preliminary talks by Victor Luithlen, to form an international committee within or affiliated to ICOM. The result of this meeting at The Hague was a resolution drafted by Alfred Berner, Ernst Emsheimer, Victor Luithlen, Claudie Marcel-Dubois, Walter Nef and Klaus Wachsmann, deciding on the creation of an international organization promoting collaboration between collections of musical instruments. The working programme would consider all common problems: scientific, technical and artistic, based on the conservation of the instruments. Not only specialised museums were considered but also those general museums having European and non-European musical instruments. A provisional committee was formed with Alfred Berner (chairman), Roger Bragard, Claudie Marcel-Dubois and Walter Nef. The next meeting would be held in Paris.
Though arranged at short notice, this well-organized meeting at The Hague was the occasion not only of very important discussions, but also visits to exhibitions and concerts.

1.3 Foundation of CIMCIM
The constitutive meeting was held in Paris at the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires (situated at that time in the Palais de Chaillot) from June 27 to July 1 1960. In its 15th session of the ICOM advisory Board held in Paris on July 11 1960, the Director of ICOM, Georges-Henri Rivière, gave an account of this meeting stating that by secret imously, the Conference had voted affiliation to ICOM in the form of an ICOM Committee for Museums and Collections of Musical Instruments. The project would be submitted to the Executive Committee the following day (ICOM News XIII).
In agreement with the resolutions adopted by the Conference of Heads of collections of musical instruments at its meeting in the Hague, in July 1959 and following a meeting of the Provisional Council in Paris in November 1959, a constitutive meeting and International working Conference was held in Paris. Delegates represented 14 countries. The German Democratic Republic, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland and the USSR were unable to attend and sent their regrets. Unesco, the International Music Council and ICOM sent representatives.
Among the 31 members present the first board was elected with Victor Luithlen as chairman, Ernst Emsheimer and Emanuel Winternitz, as vice-chairmen, Claudie Marcel-Dubois as secretary general, Alfred Berner as technical advisor and Jeannine Douillez as treasurer. The following motions were unanimously adopted:
•    Motion No. 1: Work plan 
After a long discussion on the definition of the Committee’s fundamental aims grouped according to urgency and to the means available for attaining them, resolves, subject to the approval of the Executive Committee of ICOM,
1.    to draw up the following work plan for the period 1960-1962:
▪    administrative task: to compile an international directory of museums and collections of musical instruments;
▪    technical task: to work out a plan for a guide-treatise on restoration and conservation, and to formulate provisional recommendations for the conservation of musical instruments;
▪    scientific task: to work out cataloguing standards and a critical survey on the main systems of classifying musical instruments;
2.    to keep in mind the following objectives for future work plans, to be re-examined at the Committee’s next meeting at The Hague (July 1962), during the 6th General Conference of ICOM:
▪    publication of the International Directory of Museums and Collections of Musical Instruments;
▪    publication of the provisional recommendations for the restoration of musical instruments;
▪    publication of the standards for cataloguing musical instruments and the critical survey on the main systems of classifying musical instruments;
▪    elaboration of the guide-treatise on methods of restoring musical instruments;
▪    definition of the criteria of authenticity for musical instruments;
▪    polyglot glossary of terminology used to define or indicate musical instruments;
▪    directory of manufacturers of musical instruments;
▪    survey on problems of iconography and iconology of musical instruments;
▪    international plan for reconstitution of musical instruments of exceptional interest of which specimens no longer exist;
▪    establishment of an international fund of photographs of exceptionally interesting musical instruments;
▪    inventory of musical instruments of major scientific interest maintained in important collections;
▪    encyclopaedia of musical instruments.
•    Motion No. 2 considers the necessity and subsequently the working methods for the International Directory of Museums and Collections of Musical Instruments entrusting the compilation of the Directory to a working group composed by Henrik Glahn (Copenhagen), Wladimir Kaminski (Poznan) and Sibyl Marcuse (New Haven) which will contact Alfred Berner (Berlin), a specialist on the subject.
•    Motion No. 3 considers
1.    that one of the fundamental tasks of those in charge of museums and public collections of musical instruments is responsibility for the conservation and where necessary the restoration of such instruments;
2.    that problems of conserving musical instruments are similar to those of conserving cultural property in general, and that experience already gained, although sometimes not widely enough known, is sufficient;
3.    but that concerning restoration, two specific and contradictory problems arise, namely:
▪    the necessity, when making a thorough study of a type of musical instrument, of carrying out integral technical restoration of instruments which may be incomplete or in a bad state of preservation, in order to restore them to a condition in which they can be played;
▪    the danger involved in restoring such instruments of impairing forever their value as historical documents by too much guesswork or too many repairs;
4.    that it is therefore most important:
▪    that those responsible be sufficiently well informed of the best-tried conservation methods applicable to their problems;
▪    that studied and prudent methods of restoring musical instruments be formulated for them on the basis of international experience acquired by specialists, taking into account new research and experiments;
5.    that the most effective means of attaining this objective is to establish a guide-treatise on the subject, the preparation of which will take considerable time;
6.    but that, since much ill-considered restoration of musical instruments is likely to be carried out in the next few years, those responsible should be informed without delay of the dangers involved, by means of provisional recommendations; resolves, subject to the approval of the Executive Committee of ICOM:
▪    to invite the following members to make up a working group: Alfred Berner, Geneviève de Chambure and John Henry van der Meer;
▪    to instruct the working group with a programme that works out a plan, prepares a draft of provisional recommendations, contacts the Chairman of the ICOM Committee for Scientific Museum Laboratories, Harold James Plenderleith, Director of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property in Rome.
•    Motion No. 4 considers that Standards for cataloguing musical instruments should be based on international experience in order to promote the international development of musicological and organological sciences and the unity and diversity of this field. The following members are invited to set up a working group: Alexander Buchner (Prague), Ernst Emsheimer (Stockholm) and Emanuel Winternitz (New York), advising the group to expand whenever necessary by calling upon experts such as ethnologists, archaeologists, museum specialists and documentalists recommending to cooperate with the ICOM Committee for Documentation and the UNESCO-ICOM Documentation Centre.
Every motion expresses the hope that ICOM will agree to grant the technical and financial assistance necessary for publication of these documents when the time comes.
These motions, published in ICOM News (ICOM News XIII), outlined the three major goals: inventory of collections, recommendations for conservation, standards for cataloguing. This first official meeting gave the opportunity of bringing together scholars with a common interest. During previous meetings they usually had to gather in the corridors of the official meetings. During working sessions familiar names as Mahillon, Sachs, Hornbostel, Bessaraboff and Galpin were mentioned in the discussions. The methods and future activities were discussed on the occasion of informal meetings during receptions, concerts and evenings on the “terrasses” of the Paris cafés.
The election of the officers was a delicate matter. So many people had already been involved and very active for several years. Everybody regretted that Alfred Berner was not elected but it was unanimously agreed to consider him as technical advisor. Having been the chairman of the provisional committee it must have been very painful but he stayed with CIMCIM and his advice was always appreciated.


International committees are requested to meet on the occasion of ICOM’s General Conference. The first one was to be held at the Hague in 1962. This gave not much time for contacts among members, so every occasion was grasped for a working session. The chairman Victor Luithlen managed to organize a meeting on the occasion of a congress organized by the Société Internationale de Musicologie to be held in New York at the Columbia University on 10 September 1961. His main concern was to produce drafts of the documents to be prepared by the different working groups at the ICOM General Conference at The Hague in 1962 in order to obtain subsidies from ICOM. Twelve members were present and discussed mainly the Repertory and the Provisional Recommendations on conservation and restoration of musical instruments.
Regarding the Repertory this first meeting considered mainly the questionnaire that was submitted and discussed the following points: the working group, the title, the language, the schedule and financing. One of the motions was to set up a working group with Alfred Berner, Alexander Buchner, Henrik Glahn and Sibyl Marcuse; Alexander Buchner and Sibyl Marcuse never replied so that it was decided that Robert Conant would join the remaining two members. The first questionnaire was considered far too complicated and amended based on the experience of the repertory of Arms and Armour done by an affiliated association of ICOM. For West Germany the work had been done four years previously, and it was clear that three groups of museums had to be considered: 1. specialized museums of musical instruments, 2. general museums with a department of musical instruments, 3. museums with musical instruments integrated in the general collections.
The new questionnaire was adopted and the title was determined to be Répertoire in French, Repertory and not Directory in English, in German Verzeichnis. The questionnaire would be sent to the different museums by the end of 1962 through the Secretariat in Paris, thanks to the information obtained through the UNESCO-ICOM documentation centre. A very open discussion followed regarding the languages to be adopted. The official languages of UNESCO being English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese the meeting agreed that languages involved in research in this particular field should also be considered, so English, French, Spanish, German and Italian would be most appropriate. Finally the schedule was set, the manuscript to be ready by July 1964 for the ICOM meeting of the Executive Board, provided that no technical or financial difficulties slowed down the activities of the Working Group. This was indeed a very careful addition. Another interesting initiative was to grasp this opportunity of asking the main collections to survey the situation of organs and bells in churches. It was not the task of this working group to consider situations in churches but the conservation of organs and bells was (and is) still in great danger. Another difficulty seemed to be the instruments in the then so-called developing countries. CIMCIM had about 50 members at this time; their main interest was European musical instruments but they were aware that beyond that field many instruments were in danger.
The Recommendations for Conservation and Restoration group presented a report by John Henry van der Meer. He was not able to attend a 1961 meeting in Barcelona that was attended by Mme de Chambure. Both Mme de Chambure and Alfred Berner agreed to formulate their experiences so that a document could be ready for printing in 1963 if ICOM could provide the necessary funds. As this document was only meant to be provisional the working group would continue to draft a more complete treatise.
The report on Standards for Cataloguing Musical Instruments considered the different drafts and decided to collect more information through the UNESCO-ICOM documentation centre.
This first meeting was very typical for all future meetings; the three working groups would have much to do since they met with primary needs for keeping collections in good conditions within museums. It was a very important task for such a small group. Initially, by ICOM rules only two members per country could be “invited” to become a member of an international committee. With the different fields and tasks it was clear that a way would have to be found in order to involve more colleagues with different interests in separate fields.


BERNER, A, 1981. On the Prehistory and Foundation of CIMCIM. CIMCIM Newsletter IX, 1981, pp.4-14.
ICOM News: news bulletin published by the International Council of Museums, XIII, nr 4-5, pp.17-20 for the French version, p.39-41 for the English.
A Survey of Musical Instrument Collections in the United States and Canada. Music Library Association, 1974.


Updated on Nov. 2017