Dec 3, 2013

The Wienbibliothek Buys its Own Property

The eminent Viennese music collector and scholar Ignaz Weinmann (1897–1976) left his collection and musical estate to the (then) Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek (today Wienbibliothek). While Weinmann's huge collection of musical scores survived the transfer to the library without any loss, other items from Weinmann's collection of Schubertiana did not fare so well. In a blogpost, which I published here on 5 December 2012, I wrote the following.
While the current efforts of the Wienbibliothek to recover stolen Strauss sketches are praiseworthy, it has become evident that these sketches are only the tip of an iceberg, and that the public has not yet been informed of the full extent of the losses suffered by the music collection of the Wienbibliothek (at that time the Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek) prior to the retirement of Ernst Hilmar as head of that collection in 1994. In particular, the estates of Otto Erich Deutsch and Ignaz Weinmann, both owned by the Wienbibliothek, suffered massive losses. Items that were demonstrably in the library as part of Weinmann's estate surfaced in a Viennese antiquarian shop as early as 1993, where they were purchased by the Canadian Schubert scholar Rita Steblin. Steblin (for obvious reasons) didn't notify the police, but informed the head of the library, who, however, took no legal action, preferring instead to resolve everything behind the scenes, putatively in the interest of a principle of "confidentiality" that is apparently still in force today. The head of the music collection was suspended and eventually quietly dismissed into retirement. The police and the state prosecutor were not involved. The losses from Weinmann's estate included not only irreplaceable treasures that once belonged to the Krasser family, such as the prayer books of Schubert's sister Therese Schneider and her daughter, but also many other valuable books and a lock of Franz Schubert's hair that had been given to his half-brother Andreas Schubert on the occasion of the composer's first exhumation in 1863
The two prayer books originating from Schubert's sister and her daughter Therese Krasser were part of Weinmann's valuable collection and came to the Wiener Stadt- und Landesbibliothek in 1976, together with all the other material that Weinmann had bequeathed to the library. In the inventory of Weinmann's library, titled Bibliotheca Schubertiana (Vienna 1968) these prayer books appear under "Andenken aus dem Nachlass K r a s s e r" (keepsakes from the Krasser estate), right after the lock of Schubert's hair that was stolen from the Wienbibliothek and never recovered from the exhibition premises in Schloss Atzenbrugg.

Just like several other books from Weinmann's estate, the two precious prayer books did not make it into the holdings of the library. They vanished, and all my efforts to find them in the library's catalog in 1999 and order them were unsuccessful. In the course of an internal investigation their loss (and the loss of many other books from Weinmann's estate) was later blamed on "an erroneous sale of supposed doublets" by the former head of the archive Herwig Würtz. Thus, all the embarrassing losses and thefts that the library suffered during the 1990s could be quietly resolved without the involvement of the police or the state prosecutor. 

In autumn of 2012, the lost prayer books from the Krasser family suddenly turned up again. To round up a sad story with a bizarre twist, the two books were presented on the website of the Wienbibliothek as "Neuerwerbungen September 2012" (new acquisitions).

There is no reason to assume that the library is now presenting books as "new acquisition" that had already been it its possession since 1976, when Ignaz Weinmann bequeathed his collection to the City of Vienna. I have made no enquiries yet, as to who sold (or donated) the two prayer books to the Wienbibliothek. I take it as a fact that the Wienbibliothek is now buying back valuable items that already belonged to this library almost forty years ago.

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2013. All rights reserved.


  1. Thanks for continuing to report on this story. The apparent continuing conspiracy of silence around this scandal is one of its most appalling aspects.

  2. Very interesting, informative and excellent blog.