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Hamburg now hails classical composers with a street of museums

Hamburg is highlighting the port city's historic connections with classical music. Tourists keen to walk in the footsteps of Hamburg's composers can see old musical instruments or letters written by the greats.

After two years of planning and construction, the first stage of the "Komponistenquartier" campus has been inaugurated in a row of six fancy old brick townhouses close to the German city's centre. When completed, the campus will comprise six tiny museums, each devoted to a single composing family. "The new museum makes Hamburg's music history, and with it the breeding grounds for the musical development of our city, accessible to everyone," commented the city-state's minister of culture, Barbara Kisseler, at the opening of the Komponistenquartier.

The complex is being developed more than 40 years after a first museum opened in 1971 in the restored townhouse that was once the home of Johannes Brahms, another major composer who once called Hamburg his home. Now the adjoining buildings in Peterstrasse, an old street, are filling up. "The Komponistenquartier offers the chance to bring the great historical significance of Hamburg's musical tradition to wider public notice," said Olaf Kirsch, a member of the board of the new museum. In 200 square metres of added space, visitors can see original librettos, music scores, designs for stage scenery, concert programmes, composers' letters and musical instruments associated with Telemann, Bach and Hasse. They offer a glimpse into the working conditions for composers in centuries past.

Most of the composers commemorated here were born elsewhere, but they spent a major part of their working lives in Hamburg. Drawings and texts on the walls explain the composers' lives and work, illustrate Hamburg's own history and make changing musical styles understandable to the viewer. Visitors can also sit and rest while listening to music and watching video clips.

The project is set to continue

Deutschland Komponistenquartier in Hamburg eröffnet, Source: dpa

In the "Komponistenquartier", you will find the reconstruction of a clavichord

A highlight of the exhibition on Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), located in a replica of a parlour of the period, is a reconstruction of a clavichord, the oldest keyboard instrument involving metal keys striking strings to make sound. When the composer, who was more popular at the time than his father Johann Sebastian Bach, spoke of a "clavier," he meant the clavichord. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach served as Hamburg's state-salaried director of music for 20 years and was cantor at the elite Johanneum grammar school. A copy of his work, An Attempt to Explain the True Way to play the Clavier, from 1787 is also on display.

The Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) museum on the campus evokes the interior of St. Catherine's Church in Hamburg at the time. Telemann came to Hamburg in 1721 to assume the post of music director of the city's five main churches, of which St. Catherine's was one. The museum devoted to opera composer Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) shows a reduced scale model of a baroque stage in the 18th century. In the future phase, the complex will gain exhibitions on Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn and on Gustav Mahler.

The project still needs financial backers. The Komponistenquartier was initiated by a foundation, the Carl Toepfer Stiftung, which provided the space and covered most of the 800,000-euro (847,000 dollars) refurbishing and outfitting costs.

Author: Carola Große-Wilde (dpa)