The collection of musical instruments - Rück as an example

Project duration: 2015 - 2018
Project sponsorship: German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG)

The Rück Collection of musical instruments and related artefacts, acquired by the GNM in 1962, is one of the largest private collections of musical instruments in Germany. It encompasses around 1,500 musical instruments and accessories, 100 graphic art works, paintings, a photographic documentary and a specialized library containing around 500 works.

Correspondence from the Rück Collection

The archive of the Rück Collection contains correspondence with around 1,026 addressees and offers unique insights into the trade with historic musical instruments in the period between the Great Depression and years of the economic miracle. The collection was started in around 1880 by the pianist and teacher Wilhelm Rück, who in about 1909 sold part of his collection to the Cologne paper manufacturer Wilhelm Heyer. In November 1912, Rück bequeathed around 450 musical instruments and accessories to his wife Margarethe and his two sons Hans and Dr. Ing. Ulrich Rück. The acquisition details for these objects are sadly only known in a few cases.

Following a "quiet period", the sons began to systematically expand the collection in 1929. The financial basis for this was the "Pianohaus Wilhelm Rück, Nuremberg" established in May 1892 in Tafelfeldstraße 22–24 in Nuremberg, to which in 1932 the Rück brothers added collection rooms that were open to the public. While doctor of chemistry Ulrich Rück meticulously conducted the correspondence, 
his older brother Hans, a piano graduate, was responsible for supporting the artists, and on business trips made contact with collectors. On Christmas Day 1940 he died following an accident, leaving Ulrich Rück to preserve and expand the collection alone.

Correspondence as a mirror of the collection

In numerous letters, Ulrich Rück described the focus of his endeavours regarding the collection, namely to document the development of occidental musical instruments with the development-history-relevant environment of non-European musical instruments. This is where the Rück Collection departs from similar private initiatives, such as the "Neupert Collection", which opened in July 1929 in the old Nuremberg weighmaster's office next to the main church of St. Sebald and which focused on the development of keyboard instruments.

In the correspondence, Ulrich Rück is revealed not only as a collector, but also as a dealer and agent in historic musical instruments. From the mid 1930s, for example, he advised Georg Neuner on the set-up and expansion of the musical instrument collection in the Münchner Stadtmuseum and supplied items for it. He also procured historic keyboard instruments for Tobias Norlind and the Musikhistoriska Museet in Stockholm, and he supplied items to the Handel House in Halle/Saale. Until approximately 1943, he had practically every proposition appraised and valued by his confidants, the Cologne musicologist Dr. Georg Kinsky and restorer for Berlin's collection of old musical instruments, Adolf Hartmann.

Basic research using the correspondence

The correspondence archive of the Rück Collection offers unique and fascinating insights into the structure and function of one of the largest private collections in Germany. The items of correspondence preserved in the GNM's Historical Archive today enable us to determine the presumably representative purchase prices for most of the musical instruments acquired between 1930 and 1962 - and in conjunction with the musical instruments preserved in the GNM, to compile a price overview for the trade in historic musical instruments at that time. All items of correspondence will be digitalized at the start of the project, not least for reasons of conservation. In addition to determining and documenting the acquisition transactions and related provenances, the project will examine in detail this example of a strategy for establishing a subject-oriented European network with the aim of setting up an important musical instrument collection and will be the first detailed documentation of the history of this remarkable private collection. The acquisition data will be made accessible on-line in a WissKI database.


Dr. Frank P. Bär  (Head of the project and Head of the collection of musical instruments)
Dr. des. Dominik von Roth M.A.  (Project-Coordination since january 2016, Musicologist)
Linda Escherich M.A.  (Musicologist)
Dr. Markus Zepf  (Project-Coordination till january 2016)

Further objects of research

Johann Elias Nilson, Bildnis des Johann Andreas Stein
Material/Technik: Deckfarben auf Elfenbein
Datierung: Augsburg 1753

Handschriftlicher Brief von Heinrich Fischer an Kirchenmusikdirektor Karl Lütge
Berlin 3. Juni 1921

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