In 2016, the association exil.arte was integrated into the mdw as the Exilarte Center for Banned Music. Exilarte is a place for the reception, preservation, and presentation of as well as research on those composers, performers, musicologists, and theatre artists who were branded as “degenerate” by the National Socialists and/or persecuted due to the racist Nuremberg Laws. Today, the Center is in a position to collect legacies, archive them, and present them in a multitude of ways: in exhibitions, symposia, and concerts, on CDs, and at international conferences. These efforts serve not only the documentary purpose of Holocaust research but also to reach younger generations thanks to their educational character, with raising global awareness of this theme’s complexity being of particular concern to the Center and the individuals attached to it. This overall objective enjoyed international public esteem from the very beginning and has also earned the Center the Golden Stars Award of the European Commission as well as the Bank Austria International Arts Award.
Becoming an mdw Research Center elevated Exilarte’s pursuits to a new, broader level: its responsibilities have since multiplied, and its international presence has grown accordingly. The Exilarte Center now encompasses office space, an exhibition area, and archival facilities that have already welcomed more than 30 legacies in the seven years since its establishment. Moreover, a multipurpose room serves as both a reading room for external visitors and a seminar space for those courses that the Center offers to students and researchers.
The Center’s ability to approach the various legal successors is owed to its employees’ international networking as well as to ongoing contact with Austria’s Federal Ministry of European and International Affairs (BMEIA), in particular with its worldwide Austrian Cultural Forum locations. Such initiation of contact rarely leads to a legacy’s immediate donation but instead gives rise to an intense back and forth that can easily extend over several years. This is an extremely sensitive process in which descendants are given time to think about safe storage and professional dissemination. One often hears arguments that question the return of such materials to a country or continent from which the threat leading to displacement had emanated and where relatives had perished or been murdered. On the other hand, however, many legal successors view this as a “homecoming” of sorts—as a return to the land of the mothers and fathers that had shaped these individuals. Interestingly enough, it is especially the Holocaust survivors among them who recognise the positive aspects of such return.
One experience that was particularly rich in impressions as well as touching was the return of the legacy of Hans Gál, whose daughter had been involved personally in the dissemination of her father’s oeuvre and waited ten years before agreeing to part with these materials. It was Exilarte’s establishment as an mdw Research Center in 2016 that ultimately convinced her to approve their relocation to Vienna. But even so, the handover procedure was elaborate. When the materials were picked up, the composer’s daughter turned every page of the autograph scores as a way of saying farewell to her father. It goes without saying that contact with the legal successors continues following these legacies’ transport.
After a legacy has been received, the materials are first looked over and given an initial sorting at the archive of the Exilarte Center. They have sometimes already been ordered by the originators or by their legal successors; in such cases, the existing order is respected and left unchanged. This initial stock-taking serves to provide an overview of the materials’ extent and confirm the individual objects’ acquisition, with the resulting records being intended for internal use and providing a basis for the legacies’ further detailed processing and study. Since the ultimate objective is to have the collected musical materials performed, the second important step consists in the compilation of work lists that are then made available on the Exilarte Center website. These lists indicate the works contained in a given legacy, with every piece of music documented in terms of its material form and each score, instrumental part, and vocal part assigned a specific catalogue number so that it can be identified precisely at any time.
Progress is currently being made on a database that will contain mainly musical works and correspondence. Documents and photographs from the associated figures’ lives will be added later on; pertinent information, however, can be accessed anytime at the Exilarte Archive. The Center’s exhibitions make it possible to introduce the legacies it holds in connection with specific themes. Furthermore, relationships with internationally renowned publishers (Boosey & Hawkes in London as well as G. Schirmer / Music Wise in New York) now also ensure that these musical creations—intended by the National Socialists to remain unmentioned and unheard forevermore—can be disseminated to soloists, ensembles, and conductors as well as concert-giving institutions and opera houses.