“That the principle of order is by no means limited just to living things, but rather encompasses the entire cosmos and remains in force right down to the smallest particles, is obvious.” Editha Koffer-Ullrich (undated, p. 20)

The Programme’s Founder: Editha Koffer-Ullrich (1904–1989)

As far as it is known, Editha Koffer-Ullrich was an extremely self-confident woman and no stranger to success. She was born on 27 May 1904 in Prachatitz (Bohemia), soon after which her family moved to Vienna. Starting in 1925, she studied violin at the State Academy of Music and Performing Arts with Julius Wilhelm Conrad Egghard and Franz Mairecker. And following graduation, she accompanied her husband to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she lived for several years as an “embassy wife”.

Koffer-Ullrich probably knew Hans Sittner (who led the mdw from 1946 to 1971) from her student days. And it was probably both of their experiences with music that eventually fed into their joint project of bringing music therapy to Vienna. Koffer-Ullrich had had the opportunity to observe the use of music in African healing ceremonies, while Sittner had experienced “the close proximity between music education and music therapy” on his visits to various music education conferences in the USA (Sittner 1974, p. 181). Their work together got off to a highly successful start.

In 1957, Koffer-Ullrich (backed by Sittner) flew to Boston (USA) in order to get an impression of the music therapy programme that had already been established there, and her visit also included attendance of a course at New England Conservatory during her visit.

The following year saw her lay the official cornerstone of Austrian music therapy as a co-founder of the Austrian Society for the Advancement of Musical Healing (Österreichische Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Musikheilkunde – ÖGFM). The names on her “committee of proponents” read like a who’s who of Viennese society at the time, and an important role was played by the highly influential physicians Hans Hoff (Head of the University Clinic for Psychiatry and Neurology) and Andreas Rett (who would later on head the Department of Child and Youth Neuropsychiatry at Klinik Rosenhügel) (see also Mössler 2008, p. 19). It was in 1959—and thus 60 years ago—that she established the two-year Special Course in Musical Healing at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, thereby founding Europe’s first course of academic training in music therapy.

After 12 years spent teaching, she abruptly vanished from the music therapy landscape—but not before she had been honoured with the Silver Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria in 1970. Editha Koffer-Ullrich, the pioneer of Austrian music therapy and founder of this training programme, passed away on 20 July 1989.

1st Phase of the Programme: Special Course in Musical Healing (WS 1959/60 – SS 1970)
Head: Editha Koffer-Ullrich
Basic work: institution of a four-semester curriculum plus a one-semester clinical internship; establishment of internships at three clinical institutions that remain among the programme’s obligatory music therapy internship settings to this day; involvement of the individuals who headed these clinics at the time in teaching.
Initial workplaces: primarily in caring for children and adolescents with multiple disabilities as well as in psychiatric care.

“When improvising in the context of music therapy, attention should be paid less to playing and/or production itself and far more to the largely unconscious development of emotional states. Alfred Schmölz (1991, p. 130)

The Viennese School’s Formative Figure: Alfred Schmölz (1921–1995)

The winter semester of 1970/71 saw the arrival of Alfred Schmölz. He was a piano teacher and one of the first graduates of the four-semester music therapy programme. Schmölz taught piano entirely in the spirit of the progressive education movement and was particularly impressed by the educator Heinrich Jacoby and his working partner Elsa Gindler. Early on, Schmölz adopted Jacoby’s belief that there are no unmusical people as the guiding principle of “his” Viennese School. His entire concern was an individual approach to music, and he vehemently opposed teaching over-generalised interpretations of music’s effects. To this end, Schmölz dealt intensively with a new psychotherapeutic approach that appeared during the 1970s as part of the clinical team of the psychosomatic ward of Vienna General Hospital, which was headed by Erwin Ringel. The Viennese School of Music Therapy was to benefit in a lasting way from his curiosity and his respectful interaction with the physicians then involved in the training programme, and he treated his patients with a fundamental therapeutic attitude that remains wholly unique to this day. Schmölz is a figure who stands for improvisation in dialogue and for “musical partner play” in Austria and internationally (Oberegelsbacher, 1997; Böhm-Öppinger, 2018). Alongside his expansion of the curriculum, Schmölz joined his colleagues Halmer-Stein, Oberegelsbacher, and Gathmann (1993, p. 66) in mentioning the following aspects by which he also expanded the Viennese music therapy programme during his time as its head: the “active music therapy method”, “musical partner play” (which he developed out of the psychosomatic clinical context), and free improvisation (which produces realisations in interplay with verbal review “based on the here and now”). To this day, these three elements of therapeutic work remain central pillars of the training programme in Vienna.

It became clear toward the end of Schmölz’s career that a generational transition was at hand, for which reason made a concerted effort to add members of the second generation of training to “his” team of teachers. In doing so, he placed considerable demands on his younger colleagues but also showed them respect and provided them with support.

2nd Phase of the Programme: University Course (Lehrgang) in Music Therapy (WS 1970/71 – SS 1992)
3-year course of (professional) training, non-professorial programme head: Alfred Schmölz
Basic work: coining of the term “Viennese School of Music Therapy” with the core quality of “musical partner play”. Integration of basic psychotherapeutic assumptions. Development of therapeutic work in both group and individual settings. Three clinicians were assigned to assist Schmölz in terms of the training programme’s medical guidance: Hartmann, Rett, and Ringel. Internships for the first time included supervision of each student by a team member of the clinic where he or she was interning.
Music therapy self-experience (scheduled in blocks) was offered for the first time. Introduction of written final papers at a high level, with a physician always serving as a secondary adviser. Formation of a well-trained and up-to-date team of instructors.

 “It’s about experiencing the present, remembering the past, and desires and hopes for the future—and it’s also about shaping periods of therapy together.” Dorothee Storz (2003, p. 24)

Years of Restructuring and Deepening the Psychotherapeutic Paradigm (WS 1992/93 – SS 2011)

There followed a period lasting many years during which a professorship devoted specifically to music therapy was not yet in sight. An exception here was a brief intermezzo with the physician Lothar Imhof as a visiting professor (WS 1993/94 – SS 1995). And in the mdw Senate, the field of music therapy was represented until 2011 by Gertraud Berka-Schmid (an mdw professor, singer, physician, and psychotherapist).

WS 1992/93 saw the programme renamed “Kurzstudium Musiktherapie” [Abbreviated Programme of Study in Music Therapy]. The curriculum was adapted and expanded. Regularly scheduled individual and group music therapy self-experience was introduced, expanding the earlier music therapy self-experience offerings introduced by Schmölz; even today, this remains an internationally pioneering element that has not yet been adopted at all places of training. New internship positions were added and general supervision of trainees completing internships was introduced. Successfully completed diploma exams entailed conferral of the title “Academically Certified Music Therapist” (Akademisch geprüfter Musiktherapeut). A foundation for significant changes was provided by the Austrian Psychotherapy Act (BGBl. [Federal Law Gazette] No. 361/1990), in existence since 1990. And it is thanks to the dedicated work done by Gertraud Berka-Schmid that the music therapy curriculum was adapted in order to cover a significant part of the legally defined introductory phase of training in psychotherapy (psychotherapeutisches Propädeutikum), for which reason certified music therapists were also qualified to enter the main phase (Fachspezifikum) of formal training programmes in psychotherapy. She also accomplished valuable preliminary work for the federal Music Therapy Act that came later on—in part through her success in bringing together the relevant individuals. A further important contribution was made by the programme’s graduates, who—organised via the Austrian Professional Association of Music Therapists (Österreichischer Berufsverband der Musiktherapeut_innen – ÖBM)—gathered information that was important to the members of this profession and were also represented in the pertinent ministerial talks.

Initial lectures at international conferences by mdw instructors (Eighth World Congress of Music Therapy, Hamburg, 1996; First World Congress for Psychotherapy, Vienna, 1996) inspired initiation of the book series Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie [Viennese Contributions on Music Therapy] (see literature list). Moreover, most instructors had begun to pursue additional qualifications in the field of psychotherapy.

On, 1 October 1998, the Universities of the Arts Organisation Act (KUOG) took effect, at which point the mdw (known up to then as the Academy) was renamed the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. The mdw’s full implementation of this act’s provisions followed in 2002. Music therapy benefitted from the attendant restructuring, becoming part of the newly formed Department of Music and Movement Education and Music Therapy (WS 2002/2003). From that point onward, the department was headed by Angelika Hauser-Dellefant. In addition to becoming a division of Department 13, the music therapy staff advocated re-dedicating an existing professorship at the mdw to music therapy in the future with support from Dean Wolfgang Heißler.

Shortly following music therapy’s integration into the department, its abbreviated programme of study was converted to a diploma programme—since which time graduates have received the title “Magistra/Magister atrium” (WS 2003/2004). Moreover, the first individuals from the teaching staff proceeded to earn their doctorates at other institutions (many of them in Hamburg under Prof. Dr. Decker-Voigt), pursued publishing projects, and represented the Viennese training programme at international conferences.

In 2008, after years of effort and with support from the Austrian Professional Association of Music Therapists, Austrian physicians, the head of the music therapy programme at IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems (Gerhard Tucek), and interested members of the general public, Austria’s parliament passed the Austrian Music Therapy Act (Mössler, 2008).

3rd Phase of the Programme: Academisation (WS 1992/93 – SS 2011)
From WS 1992/93: three-year “Abbreviated Programme of Study in Music Therapy”; representation in the mdw Senate: Gertraud Berka-Schmid
From WS 2002/03: music therapy training programme becomes its own division in Department 13; department headed by Angelika Hauser-Dellefant
Basic work: expansion of the curriculum, addition of internships and teaching staff members. Harmonisation with the psychotherapeutisches Propädeutikum. Installation of music therapy self-experience for individuals and groups led by individuals certified in both music therapy and psychotherapy. Expansion of many instructors’ professional competencies. Increased presence in Austria and internationally. Academic title from 2003: Magistra / Magister atrium. Preliminary work for the passage of a national law regulating the profession. Realisation of the Austrian Music Therapy Act (MuthG), BGBl. No. 92/2008, which entered effect in 2009.

 “The exchange of information with other professional groups is a significant factor behind the success of therapies in multimodal treatment settings.” Thomas Stegemann (2018, p. 22)

Music therapy as an academic, research-conducting, and legally recognised healing method (from WS 2011/2012)

The preliminary work had been completed. And finally, in the autumn of 2011, the long-desired professorial chair was instated and occupied, with Thomas Stegemann giving his inaugural lecture on 19 May 2011. With his professional qualifications as a child and youth psychiatrist, a musician, a family therapist, and a doctor of music therapy, Stegemann set about lending the Viennese music therapy programme a modern profile. In doing so, he built upon the proven qualities of the Viennese School of Music Therapy, which still views the therapeutic relationship as the most important effective factor.

The programme’s weekly lecture series was already running by WS 2001 and featured the participation of instructors from the Viennese programme as well as invited international experts. A selection of lectures held in this series was published as a book (1st edition in 2014), providing laypeople with an overview of the field of music therapy and also serving the students as a textbook (Stegemann & Fitzthum, 2018).

And at the same time, music therapy has been making inroads into new areas. Examples include clinically and socially relevant fields such as neurorehabilitation, neonatology, migration, and the treatment of post-traumatic disorders. Other new areas include neuroscience-related (Stegemann, 2018) and ethical aspects (Stegemann & Weymann, 2019), on which—in keeping with the times—Stegemann is placing an increased emphasis. 2013 saw Stegemann set up a doctoral programme that has so far produced two completed PhD dissertations. At the beginning of WS 2016/17, music therapy was given its own department (Department 14) as part of a general restructuring process. And in 2017, in cooperation with Vienna Medical University, the Music Therapy Research Centre Vienna (WZMF) was founded so that research, teaching, and practice could take place together beneath the same roof. Shortly before, in 2016, Stegemann had appointed Monika Smetana, who holds a doctorate in music therapy, as his deputy; she also serves as deputy head of the WZMF. According to the definition by Karin Mössler (2008), Smetana belongs to the Viennese programme’s third generation of graduates, for which reason this represented a further step towards ensuring continuity in instruction and the tradition.

A further reform of music therapy in Vienna—namely, the transition from a diploma programme to the BA/MA system in conformance with the Bologna Process—is planned for WS 2019/20. Numerous publications by Stegemann and the members of his Viennese team continue to reinforce the programme’s new Europe-wide reputation of providing high-quality and scientifically well-founded training. And it is thanks to Stegemann that the Viennese music therapy programme now works in a nationally and internationally networked manner, enjoys a high degree of international acceptance, and at the same time still maintains something of a “school-like tradition”.

4th Phase of the Programme: Expansion of the Department’s academic and research activities in the interest of training (from 2011)
Professorial chair occupant: Thomas Stegemann
Formal expansion measures: creation of a PhD programme (2013); co-organisation and hosting of the 10th European Music Therapy Conference (2016); establishment as a department (2016); establishment of the Music Therapy Research Centre Vienna (WZMF) (2017); conversion of the study programme to a BA/MA format (planned for WS 2020/2021).
Content of music therapy training expanded by the themes of integration, trauma therapy, neuroscience, and ethics in music therapy.


Böhm-Öppinger, S. (2018). Improvisation – musikalisches Partnerspiel und Paukenpartnerspiel. In T. Stegemann & E. Fitzthum (eds.), Kurzlehrbuch Musiktherapie Teil I: Wiener Ringvorlesung Musiktherapie – Grundlagen und Anwendungsfelder. 2nd updated and expanded edition. Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie vol. 11. (pp. 163–172). Vienna: Praesens.

Fitzthum, E. (2003). Von den Reformbewegungen zur Musiktherapie. Die Brückenfunktion der Vally Weigl. Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie (vol. 5). Vienna: Praesens.

Halmer-Stein, R., Schmölz, A., Oberegelsbacher, T. & Gathmann, P. (1993). Music therapy in Austria (p. 63–88). In C. Dileo Maranto (Ed.), Music Therapy. International Perspectives. Pipersville, Pennsylvania: Jeffrey Books.

Koffer-Ullrich, E. (undated). Musikbiologie. Die Seele und ihre Organisation als Ursache und Auslösung (vol. 1, p. 20). Unpublished manuscript.

Mössler, K. (2008). Wiener Schule der Musiktherapie. Von den Pionieren zur Dritten Generation (1957 bis heute). Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie (vol. 8). Vienna: Praesens.

Mössler, K. (2008). Update on Music Therapy in Austria: Celebrating an officially recognised profession. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved October 29, 2008, from http://www.voices.no/country/monthaustria_october2008.php

Oberegelsbacher, D. (1997). Musiktherapeutisches Improvisieren als Mittel der Verdichtung in der Psychotherapie. In E. Fitzthum, D. Oberegelsbacher & D. Storz (eds.), Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie vol. 1. (pp. 42–66). Vienna: Edition Praesens.

Schmölz, A. (1991). Selbsterfahrung im Rahmen der Musiktherapie. In W. Pieringer & J. Egger (eds.), Psychotherapie im Wandel. Festschrift on the occasion of the 20th International Seminar for Psychotherapy in Bad Gleichenberg (pp. 129–133). Vienna: WUV-Universitätsverlag.

Sittner, H. (1974). Musikerziehung zwischen Theorie und Therapie. Vienna: Elisabeth Lafite.

Stegemann, T. (2018). Was MusiktherapeutInnen über das Gehirn wissen sollten. Neurobiologie für die Praxis. Munich: Ernst Reinhardt.

Stegemann, T. & Weymann, E. (2019). Ethik in der Musiktherapie. Grundlagen und Praxis. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag.

Storz, D. (2003). Fokale Musiktherapie. Entwicklung eines Modells psychodynamisch musiktherapeutischer Kurzzeittherapie. Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie, vol. 4. Vienna: Edition Praesens.

Further Literature

Unpublished diploma theses pertaining to the “Viennese School” at the mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Department 14. A selection in chronological order.

Tripamer, U. (1998). Wiener Musiktherapie – Altorientalische Musiktherapie. Ein Vergleich.

Joham, J. (1999). Kurzstudium Musiktherapie. Zur Musiktherapieentwicklung und -ausbildung an der Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst.

Leitner, B. (2001). Musiktherapie in Großbritannien – mit einem Vergleich zur Wiener Schule.

Weber-Guskar, J. (2004). Musiktherapeutische Identität – Merkmale und Entwicklung von Identität des Therapeuten und der Berufsgruppe.

Machowetz, S. (2005). Die Rolle der Musik in der Musiktherapie anhand ausgewählter musiktherapeutischer Schulen.

Fussi, D. (2005). Ressourcenorientierte Musiktherapie bei Kindern mit Down-Syndrom. Unter Einbeziehung der Arbeitsweisen von Albertine Wesecky.

Lanzendorfer, M. (2007). Die Quellen der österreichischen Pionierin Ilse Castelliz und ihr Einfluss auf die Entwicklung der Wiener Schule der Musiktherapie ab 1959.

Fingerlos, M. (2009). Musiktherapie in Chile. Über die Spuren der Wiener Schule der Musiktherapie in Chile.

Pötsch, F. (2011). Stellenwert und Umgang mit dem Phänomen Widerstand innerhalb der „Wiener Schule“ der Musiktherapie – Einblicke in Theorie und Praxis.

Brejnikow, R. (2013). Die Bedeutung des Menschenbildes für musiktherapeutisches Handeln am Beispiel der Wiener Schule.

Riedl, H. (2014). “Wissend und Suchend in den Beruf entlassen”. Die Abschluss- und Diplomarbeiten der Wiener Musiktherapie-Ausbildung. Analyse zu inhaltlichen und formalen Aspekten.

Feichter, A. (2017). Editha Koffer-Ullrich, die Frau, die die österreichische Musiktherapie institutionalisierte. Eine Spurensuche.

Radeva, B. (2019). Berufswege nach der Wiener Musiktherapie-Ausbildung (1992–2018).

Denkmayr, D. (2019). Wann ist wieder Männerstammtisch? Gendersensible Musiktherapie und ihr Potential in der Ausbildung im Musiktherapiestudium Wien.

Dissertations pertaining to the “Viennese School of Music Therapy”

Fitzthum, E. (2003). Von den Reformbewegungen zur Musiktherapie. Die Brückenfunktion der Vally Weigl. Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie, vol. 5. Vienna: Edition Praesens.

Mössler, K. (2008). Wiener Schule der Musiktherapie. Von den Pionieren zur Dritten Generation (1957 bis heute). Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie, vol. 8. Vienna: Praesens.

Further publications pertaining to the “Viennese School of Music Therapy” by the 2nd and 3rd Generations of Graduates. A selection.

Fitzthum, E. (2011). Der musikalische Dialog in der Wiener Schule der Musiktherapie. In J. Illner & M. Smetana (eds.), Wiener Schule der differentiellen klinischen Musiktherapie. Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie (vol. 9, pp. 37–44). Vienna: Praesens.

Fitzthum, E. (2018). Die Wiener Schule der Musiktherapie. In T. Stegemann & E. Fitzthum (eds.), Kurzlehrbuch Musiktherapie Teil I. Wiener Ringvorlesung Musiktherapie – Grundlagen und Anwendungsfelder (2nd edition). Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie (vol. 11, pp. 1–16). Vienna: Praesens.

Fitzthum, E. & Mössler, K. (currently in production). Die Wiener Schule der Musiktherapie. In H.H.-Decker Voigt & E. Weymann (eds.), Lexikon der Musiktherapie (3rd edition). Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Fitzthum, E. & Storz, D. (currently in production). In H.U. Schmidt, T. Stegemann & C. Spitzer (eds.), Musiktherapie bei psychischen und psychosomatischen Störungen. Munich: Elsevier.

Mössler, K. (2011). “I am a psychotherapeutically oriented music therapist”: theory construction and its influence on professional identity formation under the example of the Viennese School of Music Therapy. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 20(2), 155–184.

Oberegelsbacher, D. (2014). Semper audire – semper sonare. In T. Stegemann & E. Fitzthum (eds.), Festschrift 55 Jahre Musiktherapie-Ausbildung an der Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien (pp. 37–40). Vienna: Eigenverlag.

Stegemann, T. & Fitzthum, E. (eds.). (2018). Kurzlehrbuch Musiktherapie Teil I. Wiener Ringvorlesung Musiktherapie – Grundlagen und Anwendungsfelder. Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie (vol. 11, 2nd edition). Vienna: Praesens.

Storz, D. (2018). Techniken in der Musiktherapie. In T. Stegemann & E. Fitzthum (eds.), Kurzlehrbuch Musiktherapie Teil I. Wiener Ringvorlesung Musiktherapie – Grundlagen und Anwendungsfelder. Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie (vol. 11, 2nd edition, pp. 93–104). Vienna: Praesens.


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