In Memoriam Harald Heckmann (6 December 1924 – 5 November 2023)

Thursday, November 16, 2023

In Harald Heckmann, the world of music archivists and documenters has lost one of its most distinguished personalities. Those of us who had the privilege of working with him have also lost a wise mentor and fatherly friend.

Born the son of an art historian and teacher in Dortmund, he studied musicology in Freiburg im Breisgau with Wilibald Gurlitt, among others. In 1952, he completed his doctorate with a dissertation on “Wolfgang Caspar Printz (1641–1717) and his theory of rhythm.” He remained Gurlitt’s assistant until 1954, while working on the renowned Handwörterbuch of musical terminology and lecturing on the history of Lutheran church music and hymnology at the Musikhochschule Freiburg.

After completing his studies, he gained his first experiences with archival work at the Freiburg Folk Song Archive. In 1954, he moved to Kassel to set up the German Music History Archive (not to be confused with the German Music Archive of the German National Library) meant to become the central microfilm archive of German musical sources.

Heckmann was presumably a founding member of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML), founded in 1950 under the leadership of Vladimir Fedorov (1901–1979), and at that time usually abbreviated as AIBM after its French name Association Internationale des Bibliothèques Musicales. From 1959 to 1974 he served as Secretary General, then as President until 1977, eventually becoming Honorary President of the association. Even earlier he was involved with the founding of the international documentation projects operating under the auspices of IAML and often mentioned as the “R-Projects”: RILM, RISM, and RIdIM. (RIPM was only added later.)

He was particularly concerned with RISM, serving as its secretary from 1960 and as its president after 1988. Together with his friend, the Mozart scholar Wolfgang Rehm (1929–2017), he succeeded in setting up a second office under the name RISM Zentralredaktion, alongside the original RISM Sécretariat based in Paris. Initially, the new office in Kassel was responsible for the production of the A/I series, including individual prints before 1800. Only in the early 1980s did the Zentralredaktion also take over the A/II series, dedicated to music manuscripts from 1600 to 1800 (but later extended to 1850 and beyond). It was a milestone when, together with Wolfgang Rehm, Heckmann managed to secure funding for the latter project from the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. After his retirement in 2004, he became honorary president also of RISM.

A central theme of his work, both professional and voluntary, was the introduction of information technology into music documentation. He was one of those managers who were themselves not closely familiar with such tools (and how could they have been), but nonetheless recognized the vast perspectives they opened up, which we tend to take for granted today. It is thanks to him and his like-minded colleagues, above all Barry S. Brook (1918–1997), that the RISM A/II series came to be conceived in terms of computers from the very beginning, and that publication in book format was ruled out – even though at the time no one could have a clear idea about how the database might be published later.

His assertiveness notwithstanding, Harald Heckmann was a friendly, approachable person who was exceedingly popular both among his professional colleagues and in his private sphere. Together with his wife, the art historian Elisabeth Heckmann, he enjoyed visiting museums and attending concerts. (Incidentally, the two of them wrote descriptions of music-related artworks for RIDIM.) He also organized concerts himself, not only in his private home in Ruppertshain, in the Taunus Mountains, but also for the Frankfurt Robert Schumann Society together with the cellist Georg Mantel. He cultivated his wide-ranging contacts as a Rotarian and through parties given at his home, as well as invitations. This network proved to be a useful asset also for RISM, not only by enabling contact with Klaus Saur, whose press published the RISM CD-ROM for over 15 years, but also when Heckmann recruited Christoph Wolff, the famous Bach scholar, to succeed him as President of RISM.

In recent years, Harald Heckmann’s life has gone dark. When I last visited him in his retirement home, he no longer recognized me. At the proud age of 98, a mere month before his 99th birthday, he died in Königstein im Taunus. We can only be grateful for his contributions to the success of RISM, which can hardly be overestimated.

We will cherish his memory.

Klaus Keil
former head of the RISM Zentralredaktion

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