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Collection of Historical Sound Recordings

The collection of historical sound recordings at the German Music Archive (Deutsches Musikarchiv) stems in part from the Deutsche Phonothek (the predecessor of the German Music Archive). In 1975 the collection included roughly 5,000 gramophone records, most of which were donations. Copies given by the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, the Harnack-Haus collection and donations from the composers Peter Kreuder and Robert Stolz, from private individuals and from broadcasting organisations formed the basis of the collection.

The German Music Archive attempts to acquire and catalogue all historical sound recordings released in Germany and make them available for academic use. It does this by making specific purchases, by bidding at auctions and by acquiring notable private collections. Of the collections obtained so far, the shellac gramophone estates of Thomas Mann, Berthold Leimbach and Franz Hutter are worthy of particular mention.

The collection currently includes 200,000 shellac records from the period between 1896 and roughly 1958. All musical genres are represented, as are non-musical recordings such as literature recordings, contemporary history documents or animal calls.

The main focus of the German Music Archives collecting activities is on German productions. However, the collection also documents the global links of the phono industry. The exchange of matrices - even back in the mechanical-acoustic era (pre-1925) - permitted the international distribution of prestigious recordings which went on to dominate the global market (ranging from Caruso through to Louis Armstrong).

The German Music Archive has developed a database for the use and further systematic expansion of the collection; its structure reflects the unique properties of these materials. The document 'unit' is a single gramophone record side. The main details of the record label are noted, faithfully reproducing the wording of the label. All discographically significant numbers and ciphers from the inside margin are also recorded. This base data is not merged or standardised. The search key specially developed for this database (label, matrix number, catalogue number) guides specialists directly to the relevant information. The keen amateur is better served using the "All terms" search key.

The collection of historical sound recordings is constantly updated in the catalogue of the German National Library.

Last update: 15.3.2013

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