“Our past is also our future” (Unsere Vergangenheit ist auch unsere Zukunft) is the motto that heads the homepage of the Fritz Kreisler Department—a wonderful match in light of not only the Viennese string sound, but also the Department’s most recent project: the online presentation of the Karl Scheit Archive.
Our music-making, teaching, and research is based to a major extent on the resources left to us by past generations—historical instruments, scores, literature, recordings, and documents of all types. What’s more, the basis of today’s large library and archival holdings is often formed by private collections such as that of Karl Scheit (1909–1993), which is held at the mdw’s Fritz Kreisler Department and has been accessible online since 24 September 2021.
Since the dawn of the 20th century, Vienna has been a city of special significance for the guitar: as early as the pioneering era of musicology presided over by Guido Adler, the then-Academy of Music and Performing Arts bore witness to lectures on the guitar’s history (by Richard Batka), and practical instruction (by Jakob Ortner) arrived around World War I. Our institution was the place where initial academic research, important specialist journals, editions of printed music, and—with Ortner’s appointment as a professor in 1924—the world’s first professorial chair for guitar came to be. Numerous important guitarists and teachers from all over the world trained under Ortner and his successors Luise Walker and Karl Scheit.
As a musician, a pedagogue, and an editor of guitar repertoire, Scheit accorded special priority to researching and documenting the guitar’s past, and he also made a special effort to obtain an understanding of the tradition to which he belonged, in turn contributing to the development of its independent profile. Constantly at pains to deepen his knowledge about his instrument, he had worked since his student days to collect everything he could find that had anything to do with the guitar and the lute. Although he lost nearly everything to a bomb hit during the final year of World War II and was forced to start from scratch in 1945, Scheit still ended up compiling one of the world’s most important collections—an important source for all of his musical, pedagogical, and editorial work.
In 1999, Luise Scheit turned over the lion’s share of this collection to the mdw in the interest of setting up a special library for the guitar. 2005 then saw a database with catalogue numbers set up under the aegis of Walter Würdinger.
This archive was paid little attention at first, and I became its initial—and, for quite some time, its only—user. As I surveyed the material, I hit upon several gems that went on to make waves internationally. These included two previously unknown concertini for guitar and strings by Johann Padowetz, unknown songs by Fernando Sor, and previously lost compositions by Giulio Regondi. All of these works have since been published in new editions.
In 2015, I was entrusted with the care of this archive. Its valuable historical prints have since been separated from other editions of music and catalogued in a scholarly manner, with the most important among them being digitised. Further materials owned by Luise Scheit were added, and Konrad Ragossnig (1932–2018), Scheit’s successor at the mdw, entrusted the archive with extensive documentation of his own career: concert programmes, critiques, photos, letters, and more.
The publications that arose led to requests from all over the world, and the logical consequence was to take a further step into a digital future. Said step has now become the initial project in a large-scale digitisation offensive at the mdw—with the University Archives, the Film Archives, the Kurt Blaukopf Archive, exil.arte, various legacies, and much more to follow. But first, a structure had to be set up that would do justice to all of these different projects and support connection to international databases such as the GND (the German National Library’s “Integrated Authority File”) and WorldCat.
Catalogue data are currently available for ca. 3,700 of the Karl Scheit Archive’s objects, of which 600 have also been digitised. In terms of notation, these materials include rare prints, manuscripts by contemporary composers from Scheit’s circle, and certain newer editions that are out of print and otherwise unavailable. The online offerings also include what is probably the most important collection of periodicals having to do with the guitar (save for those still under copyright), a collection that is now available for research purposes. Networking with international research platforms such as Robert Coldwell’s Digital Guitar Archive (digitalguitararchive.com/archive) adds further value.
The project to provide online access to the Karl Scheit Archive has involved numerous mdw employees—from the ZID (principally Stefan Szepe and Stefan Trumpf), the Office of Research Support (Therese Kaufmann and Vitali Bodnar), and the Fritz Kreisler Department (Mirjam Schröder-Feldhoff, Wolfgang Klos, Stefan Kropfitsch, Alexander Swete, Alvaro Pierri, Karin Mühlhauser, and Laura Eichenseer)—all of whom I thank for their contributions!
Karl Scheit and all of the others whose collections are now accessible to the public would certainly have been happy to have had such resources available to them at the beginning of their careers!
The archive’s online portal is located at: repo.mdw.ac.at/scheitarchiv
A detailed article on the Scheit collection appeared in EGTA-Journal No. 10, 06/2021, published by the German division of the European Guitar Teachers Association: egta-nrw.de/journal
Further information on the guitar in Austria: gitarre-archiv.at