The way these factors relate in different regions of Europe, and their relation to the social and political history and the commercial organization of the various countries, has contributed to the diversity of the picture of European composer museums. In the large countries with long and well-established musical traditions, central to European music, most of the widely recognized composers are commemorated, some of them many times over. In Austria, for example, the major figures of Viennese music and the composer of Stille Nacht account between them for more than three-quarters of the museums or memorial houses; the remainder are men with a special local reputation or beloved by an enthusiast. Very much the same applies in Germany and Italy. France, Spain and England, with fewer great figures, have relatively small numbers of sites, and the want of strong local traditions and rivalries in most parts of those countries, which have longer histories of national unity, has meant that there has never been so much spur to claim prestige through a famous local composer: Gloucestershire and the Isere feel no need to assert themselves through a Holst or a Berlioz. In none of these countries will you find many museums to composers who are not nationals, nearly always native but just occasionally adoptive.


The situation is different, however, in the countries that attained nationhood comparatively recently, or with particular groups within them. In Belgium, there are three museums in which composers, little known elsewhere, who pioneered the setting of Flemish texts during Walloon domination are commemorated. But this applies more forcefully in central and eastern Europe, especially in lands that were long part of an empire, Russian, Austrian or Ottoman. Many of the composers celebrated in the Baltic countries, for example, were among the earliest to set words in their own national tongue, sometimes when it was prohibited, and were often involved in collecting and setting their countries folksong; in several cases, there is an open-air auditorium close to the museum where choirs sing their music at an annual festival. In Romania, long divided between empires, there are museums commemorating composers who have written national songs or anthems and another collective museum to a group of composers who particularly nurtured the local choral traditions, while five are devoted to Enescu, the first Romanian composer to become an international figure.

The southern Slavonic countries too primarily commemorate composers who pointed towards a national identity in music, often by being among the earliest from their region to achieve an international reputation or the earliest to set their own language. Some composers even adopted Slav names in preference to their existing Germanic ones. In Bulgaria a museum commemorates the first conductor of the leading Bulgarian choir, who composed settings of national choral songs. Although Ukraine’s situation within the Russian Empire is symbolized by its museums to Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky – all on holiday or country estates that belonged to Russians – most of its remaining museums are to composers concerned with national identity. The countries that belonged to, or were closer to, the Habsburg lands present a more complex picture. In Poland, more than half of all the composer museums are dedicated to Chopin. In Hungary, Haydn and Beethoven are commemorated along with national figures. In the Czech Republic – which stands third to Austria and Germany for the number of its museums, and second to none in its national organization of them through an enlightened central museum – visiting composers are remembered as well as the country’s own most distinguished sons and a host of further Czech composers, commemorated at the houses of their birth or domicile – be it, sometimes, very simply – or in larger institutions. Other countries too are happy to claim the connection with a great composer from abroad: Beethoven is remembered in Hungary and both he and Schubert in Slovakia.

The dates at which museums came to be established, seen in relation to current political developments, speak for themselves. The inter-war years saw the setting up of the first Baltic museum and the house celebrating choral traditions in Romania, and the creation of no fewer than seven museums in what was Czechoslovakia and the first Chopin museum in Poland. During World War II such developments came to a halt, although the foundation of museums to Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky in Tikhvin and Votkinsk may perhaps be seen as an assertion of national culture. After the war many were rebuilt and reopened, but there have been some notable flurries of activity here and there, for example in the creation of six museums in Romania and five in Czechoslovakia, signalling the availability of public funding for the fanning of national pride and prestige in the socialist countries, where the State ownership of property made it easier. In the West, the increasing prosperity of the 1970s and 80s is reflected in the foundation of numerous new museums, particularly in Austria and Germany.

The political changes that swept through central eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s do not seem to have affected the patterns. During the socialist years there was always some funding for cultural pursuits, especially where they favoured composers who could be seen to be ‘of the people’, which was officially interpreted as meaning those who drew on national folksong in their music, as so many were obliged to do. But a fresh spur was provided by newly established independence and often nationhood. In the West, while the base of support for ‘classical music seems to have been shrinking in the closing decades of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st, several new museums have come to be founded and old ones refurbished, celebrating composers of all periods since the 18th century. The more immediate past, as usual, will need to wait. Perhaps, with the establishment by the National Trust of house museums in Liverpool to McCartney and Lennon, others to popular musicians may follow; and certainly Andrew Lloyd Webber’s art collection already has a museum potential. But there remains ample scope for museums to the most distinguished composers of recent times, such as Messiaen, Berio and Tippett, and there is no shortage of candidates for the future. The process will surely continue.

There are, of course, composer museums outside Europe. But essentially the tradition is a European one. In the great cultures of Asia the idea of honouring an individual as a creative artist, generally speaking, carries less weight, and the lack of an individually composed historical repertory militates against the idea of celebrating composers in museums. Nearly all the composer museums known to us outside Europe are in the Americas, Australia and the Caucasus. They lie beyond the scope of this book but it may be useful to add a note about them here.

Beyond Europe

Several Europeans who sought fortunes or refuge in the United States are remembered there. Dvorak’s time at the Czech colony at Spillville, Iowa, is commemorated in an exhibit in the Bily Clocks Museum there. The plantation house in which Delius lived near Jacksonville, Florida, is now preserved on the campus of the university, with his own piano, and a monument marks its original site at Solano Grove. There is also a monument to Ernest Bloch near his former home at Agate Beach, Oregon. A number of sites are named after Ole Bull in Pennsylvania and there is a small Bull archive in Sudbury, Massachusetts. In Puerto Rico, there is a Casals museum in San Juan, established by his widow, and in Jamaica Noel Coward is commemorated in his two houses. There is also a museum to Bob Marley in Jamaica.

Delius’s Solano Grove house in Florida

Ives’s birthplace at Danbury, Connecticut

In Argentina, a museum was established in 1970 to Falla, in the house in which he died in Alta Gracia, near Cordoba. John Lennon is commemorated in a museum set up in Tokyo by his widow.

Some non-Europeans too are commemorated. In Brazil, there is a museum to Carlos Gomes at his birthplace in Campinas and one to Villa-Lobos in Rio de Janeiro. In the United States, the Charles Ives birthplace at Danbury, Connecticut, is a museum, and Edward MacDowell is commemorated at the MacDowell Colony at Peterborough, New Hampshire. There is a museum to J.P. Sousa in West Lafayette, Indiana, and two to Stephen Foster, a memorial one at the University of Pennsylvania and another at White Springs in Florida. There is a Scott Joplin museum at his house in St Louis, Missouri, and one to W.C. Handy at his birthplace in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2003 a museum to Louis Armstrong was set up in his house at Corona, Queens, New York. There are museums to Liberace in Las Vegas, Nevada, and to Jimi Hendrix in Seattle, Washington.

The only Australian museum is the fine one to Percy Grainger at Melbourne University, notable for its collection of his specially designed instruments and for his extensive correspondence. In the Caucasian countries, there are two museums to Uzeir Hajibeyov in the Azerbaijani cities of Baku and Kutaisi; Paliashvili is commemorated in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Khachaturyan and Spendiaryan in the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

Related Post

Leave a Reply