Curt Sachs


(b Berlin, 29 June 1881; d New York, 5 Feb 1959). American musicologist of German birth. He attended the Französisches Gymnasium in his native city while at the same time taking lessons in piano, music theory and composition with Leo Schrattenholz. He then went to Berlin University and, though he also studied music history with Fleischer, Kretzschmar and Wolf, it was in the history of art that he took the doctorate (1904) with a dissertation on Verrocchio’s sculpture. He then pursued a career as an art historian, helping to edit the Monatshefte für kunstwissenschaftliche Literatur and working at the Kunstgewerbe Museum in Berlin. In 1909, however, he began to devote himself wholly to music. After military service in World War I, Sachs joined Hornbostel at the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv and co-authored the seminal article ‘Systematik der Musikinstrumente’ (1914), which laid out a new basis for the systematic classification of Western and non-Western instruments. In 1920 he was appointed director of the Staatliche Instrumentensammlung, which was then attached to the Staatliche Akademie Hochschule für Musik, Berlin. (It became part of the Staatliches Institut für Deutsche Musikforschung in 1935.) Sachs completely reorganized this distinguished collection of musical instruments, having many of the instruments restored so that they could be heard. At the same time he was an external lecturer at the university, becoming reader in 1921 and professor in 1928; he also taught at the Hochschule für Musik and the Akademie für Kirchen- und Schulmusik. In addition he held various advisory posts in German museums and in the official educational establishment. In 1930 and 1932, for example, he was invited to Cairo by the Egyptian government to serve as a consultant on oriental music.

Being Jewish, Sachs was deprived of all his academic positions in 1933; he went to Paris, where he worked with André Schaeffner at the ethnological museum, the Musée de l’Homme (then Musée du Trocadéro), and taught at the Sorbonne. In 1934 he began the series of historical recordings, L’Anthologie Sonore, which provided an introduction to the sound of early music for several generations of students. In 1937 he emigrated to the USA; from 1937 to 1953 he was professor of music at New York University. Besides being a consultant at the New York Public Library, and serving as visiting professor from time to time at various American universities (Harvard, Northwestern and Michigan), Sachs also lectured regularly at Columbia University in New York, where he was made adjunct professor from 1953 until his death. In the last decade of his life he received various honorary degrees, including honorary doctorates from Hebrew Union College and from the Free University of Berlin; the West German government appointed him an Ordinarius emeritus; the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Musikforschung made him an honorary member; he was president of the American Musicological Society (1950–52) and honorary president of the American Society for Ethnomusicology.

Curt Sachs was a giant among musicologists, as much because of his astounding mastery of a number of subjects as because of his ability to present a comprehensive view of a vast panorama. This latter talent made him a generalist or popularizer in the best sense of the word, a qualification which should not obscure the fact that he developed new fields of inquiry. Indeed his achievement in synthesizing countless facts into a comprehensible whole is all the more impressive since he often dealt with previously unexplored areas. Sachs was one of the founders of comparative musicology (‘vergleichende Musikwissenschaft’), a forerunner of ethnomusicology, and of modern organology. He not only devised (together with Erich von Hornbostel) the classification scheme for instruments that has gained universal acceptance, but he also wrote a standard dictionary of instruments (1914), a model catalogue of one of the world’s great collections (1922) and an important history of instruments (1940). His studies in the music of the ancient world produced several standard surveys of the field as well as a number of provocative essays. His fascination with the nature of the musical experience led him to an important study of rhythm and tempo, and his concern with the relationship between music and the other arts inspired his world history of the dance and his major cultural historical study, The Commonwealth of Art (1946). Although his methodologies have been criticized for the biases which, as a product of the Berlin ‘cultural-historical’ school, they inevitably inherited, his contributions are still highly valued. Sachs was a great teacher and a warm and vital person, beloved by his many students. He was filled to overflowing with ideas and with energy; the amount of work he produced in his busy life was prodigious.


Musikgeschichte der Stadt Berlin bis zum Jahre 1800 (Berlin, 1908/R)

Die Briefe Beethovens (Berlin, 1909)

‘Die Ansbacher Hofkapelle unter Markgraf Johann Friedrich (1672–1686)’, SIMG, xi (1909–10), 105–37

Musik und Oper am kurbrandenburgischen Hof (Berlin, 1910/R)

Die Briefe Mozarts (Berlin, 1911)

Real-Lexikon der Musikinstrumente, zugleich ein Polyglossar für das gesamte Instrumentengebiet (Berlin, 1913/R, 2/1964)

with E.M. von Hornbostel: ‘Systematik der Musikinstrumente’, Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, xlvi (1914), 553–90; Eng. trans. in GSJ, xiv (1961), 3–29 [trans. repr. in Ethnomusicology: an Introduction, ed. H. Myers (London, 1992), 444–61]

Die Musikinstrumente Indiens und Indonesiens (Berlin, 1915, 2/1923/R)

Die Musikinstrumente Birmas und Assams im K. Ethnographischen Museum zu München (Munich, 1917)

‘Kunstgeschichtliche Wege zur Musikwissenschaft’, AMw, i (1918–19), 451–64; repr. in 50 Jahrgänge Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, ed. H.H. Eggebrecht (Stuttgart, 1994), 29–42

Handbuch der Musikinstrumentenkunde (Leipzig, 1920, 2/1930/R)

Die Musikinstrumente des alten Ägyptens (Berlin, 1921)

Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente bei der Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik zu Berlin (Berlin, 1922)

Die modernen Musikinstrumente (Berlin, 1923)

Die Musikinstrumente (Breslau, 1923)

Das Klavier (Berlin, 1923)

‘Die griechische Instrumentalnotenschrift’, ZMw, vi (1923–4), 289–301

Musik des Altertums (Breslau, 1924/R)

‘Ein babylonischer Hymnus’, AMw, vii (1925), 1–22

Die Musik der Antike (Potsdam, 1928/R)

Geist und Werden der Musikinstrumente (Berlin, 1929/R)

Vergleichende Musikwissenschaft in ihren Grundzügen (Leipzig, 1930, 3/1974)

Eine Weltgeschichte des Tanzes (Berlin, 1933; Eng. trans., 1937/R)

‘La signification, la tache et la technique museographique des collections d'instruments de musique’, Mouseion, xxvii–xxviii (1934), 153–84

Les instruments de musique de Madagascar (Paris, 1938)

The History of Musical Instruments (New York, 1940)

The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West (New York, 1943)

‘The Road to Major’, MQ, xxix (1943), 381–404

The Commonwealth of Art: Style in the Fine Arts, Music and the Dance (New York, 1946)

Our Musical Heritage (New York, 1948, 2/1955/R)

‘Rhythm and Tempo: an Introduction’, MQ, xxxviii (1952), 384–98

Rhythm and Tempo: a Study in Music History (New York, 1953/R)

with A. Mendel and C.C. Pratt: Some Aspects of Musicology: Three Essays (New York, 1957) [incl. ‘The Lore of Non-Western Music’, 19–48; repr. in A Century of Ethnomusicological Thought, ed. K.K. Shelemay (New York, 1990), 143–70]

ed. J. Kunst: The Wellsprings of Music: an Introduction to Ethnomusicology (Leiden and The Hague, 1962/R)

                   Hornbostel, Erich Moritz von

(b Vienna, 25 Feb 1877; d Cambridge, 28 Nov 1935). Austrian scholar. His parental home was a focus of Viennese musical life (his mother was the singer and Brahms devotee Helene Magnus) and in early youth he studied harmony and counterpoint under Mandyczewski; by his late teens he was an accomplished pianist and composer. After studying natural sciences and philosophy at the universities of Heidelberg and Vienna (1895–9) he took the doctorate in chemistry in Vienna (1900) and then moved to Berlin, where, under the influence of Stumpf at the university, he became absorbed in the study of experimental psychology and musicology, particularly tone psychology. He was an assistant to Stumpf at the Psychological Institute (1905) until its archives became the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv, of which he was director from 1906 to 1933. In 1917 he was appointed professor at the university and in recognition of his achievements he was also given a lectureship without having to write a Habilitationsschrift. His pupils and assistants at the achive who later became prominent scholars included Fritz Bose, George Herzog, Hickmann, Husmann, Kolinski, Lachmann, Marius Schneider, Sachs, Wiora and the American composer Henry Cowell. Collectively they were known as the Berlin School. On being dismissed in 1933 (his mother was Jewish) he fled to Switzerland and then emigrated to New York with his wife and son to accept a lectureship at the New School for Social Research, but failing health obliged him to move to London in 1934. He spent the last months of his life in Cambridge working on a collection of ‘primitive’ recordings at the Psychological Laboratory.

With Stumpf and Otto Abraham, Hornbostel initiated the application of the concepts and methods of acoustics, psychology and physiology to the study of non-European musical cultures. Their efforts were decisive in achieving recognition for the newly developed discipline ‘vergleichende Musikwissenschaft’ (comparative musicology). With Abraham, Hornbostel published a series of essays on non-European music (Japanese, Turkish, Indian, Amerindian) based on materials at the Phonogramm-Archiv, and suggested a method for transcribing music from recordings. In 1904 they outlined a programme in comparative musicology similar to that of comparative linguistics. At the Second Congress of the International Musical Society (Basle, 1906) Hornbostel provided sufficient evidence for the use of empirical musicological data in ethnological research. Also in 1906 he undertook field research among the Pawnee Indians in North America, and in subsequent years concentrated on building up the collection at the Phonogramm-Archiv. During World War I his work with the psychologist Max Wertheimer on the physical and psychological basis of sound detectors took him to the major battle fronts and gave him the opportunity to record folk music in prison camps. In 1932 he was a leading participant at the Congress of Arabian Music in Cairo.

Despite the breadth and scope of his writings (86 articles and 59 reviews) Hornbostel never published a synthesis of his investigations. Some of his ideas, such as the theory of blown 5ths and the study of scale systems, have met with severe criticism (the former theory was attacked by Bukofzer, Lloyd and Schlesinger, but defended by Kunst). Yet his classification system of instruments (with Sachs, 1914, based on a system earlier proposed by V.-C. Mahillon) and his studies on the psychology of musical perception, the cross-cultural implications of tuning systems, and folk polyphonies remain important to ethnomusicology. His early writings, along with invaluable review articles up to 1960, have been collected and translated in Hornbostel: Opera omnia (1975–). Hornbostel's papers are housed with Max Wertheimer's papers in the special collections of the Library and Museum of the Performing Arts, Music Division, New York Public Library.


ed. C. Stumpf and E.v. Hornbostel: Abhandlungen zur vergleichenden Musikwissenschaft (Munich, 1922) [S]

ed. K.P. Wachsmann and others: Hornbostel: Opera omnia, i (The Hague, 1975) [W]

with O. Abraham: ‘Studien über das Tonsystem und die Musik der Japaner’, SIMG, iv (1902–3), 302–60 [S, 179–231; Eng. trans., W, 1–84]

‘Melodischer Tanz: eine musikpsychologische Studie’, ZIMG, v (1903–4), 482–8 [Eng. trans., W, 203–15]

with O. Abraham: ‘Phonographierte indische Melodien’, SIMG, v (1903–4), 348–401 [S, 251–90; Eng. trans., W, 115–82]

with O. Abraham: ‘Phonographierte türkische Melodien’, ‘Über die Bedeutung des Phonographen für die vergleichende Musikwissenschaft’, Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, xxxvi (1904), 203–21 [S, 233–50], 222–50 [Eng. trans., W, 91–113, 183–202]

‘Die Probleme der vergleichenden Musikwissenschaft’, ZIMG, vii (1905–6), 85–97 [Eng. trans., W, 247–70]

with O. Abraham: ‘Über die Harmonisierbarkeit exotischer Melodien’, SIMG, vii (1905–6), 138–41 [Eng. trans., W, 271–8]

with O. Abraham: ‘Phonographierte Indianermelodien aus Britisch Columbia’, Boas Anniversary Volume: Anthropological Papers, ed. B. Laufer (New York, 1906), 447–74 [S, 291–310; Eng. trans., W, 299–322]

‘Über den gegenwärtigen Stand der vergleichenden Musikwissenschaft’, IMusSCR II: Basle 1906, 50–60

‘Phonographierte tunesische Melodien’, SIMG, viii (1906–7), 1–43 [S, 311–48; Eng. trans., W, 323–80]

‘Notiz über die Musik der Bewohner von Süd-Neu-Mecklenburg’, in E. Stephan and F. Gräbner: Neu-Mecklenburg (Berlin, 1907), 131–7, musical suppls. i–iii [S, 349–58]

‘Fragebogen über bosnische und dalmatinische Doppelflageoletts und Doppelschalmeien’, Zeitschrift für österreichische Volkskunde, xiv (1908), 208–10

‘Über die Musik der Kubu’, in B. Hagen: Die Orang-Kubu auf Sumatra (Frankfurt, 1908), 245–56 [S, 359–77]

‘Phonographierte Melodien aus Madagaskar und Indonesien’, in A. Krämer: Anthropologie und Ethnographie, v: Forschungsreise S.M.S. ‘Planet’ 1906/07 (Berlin, 1909), 139–52

‘Über Mehrstimmigkeit in der aussereuropäischer Musik’, IMusSCR III: Vienna 1909, 298–303

with O. Abraham: ‘Vorschläge für die Transkription exotischer Melodien’, SIMG, xi (1909–10), 1–25; Eng. trans. in EthM, xxxviii (1994), 125–56

‘Wanyamwezi-Gesänge’, Anthropos, iv (1909), 781–800, 1033–52

‘Musikpsychologische Bemerkungen über Vogelgesang’, ZIMG, xii (1910–11), 117–28 [corrections 331–2]

with C. Stumpf: ‘Über die Bedeutung ethnologischer Untersuchungen für die Psychologie und Ästhetik der Tonkunst’, IV. Kongress für experimentelle Psychologie: Innsbruck 1910, 256–69; repr. in Beiträge zur Akustik und Musikwissenschaft, vi (1911), 102–15

‘Über einige Panpfeifen aus Nordwestbrasilien’, in T. Koch-Grünberg: Zwei Jahre unter den Indianern, ii (Berlin, 1910), 378–91

‘Über vergleichende akustische und musikpsychologische Untersuchungen’, Zeitschrift für angewandte Psychologie und psychologische Sammelforschung, iii (1910), 465–87; repr. in Beiträge zur Akustik und Musikwissenschaft, v (1910), 143–67

‘U.S.A. Nationale Music’, ZIMG, xii (1910–11), 64–8

‘Notizen über kirgisische Musikinstrumente und Melodien’, in R. Karutz: Unter Kirgisen und Turkmenen (Leipzig, 1911), 196–218

‘Über ein akustisches Kriterium für Kulturzusammenhänge’, Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, xliii (1911), 601–15

‘Arbeit und Musik’, ZIMG, xiii (1911–12), 341–50

‘Die Musik auf den nordwestlichen Salomo-Inseln’, in R. Thurnwald: Forschungen auf den Salomo-Inseln und dem Bismarck-Archipel, i (Berlin, 1912), 461–504

‘Melodie und Skala’, JbMP 1912, 11–23

with K.T. Preuss: ‘Zwei Gesänge der Cora-Indianer’, in K.T. Preuss: Die Nayarit-Expedition, i (Leipzig, 1912), 367–81

‘Die Musik der Pangwe’, in G. Tessmann: Die Pangwe, ii (Berlin, 1913/R), 320–57

‘Bemerkungen über einige Lieder aus Bougainville’, in E. Frizzi: Ein Beitrag zur Ethnologie von Bougainville und Buka (Leipzig, 1914), 53–6

with C. Sachs: ‘Systematik der Musikinstrumente: ein Versuch’, Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, xlvi (1914), 553–90; Eng. trans., in GSJ, xiv (1961), 3–29; repr. in Ethnomusicology: an Introduction, ed. H. Myers (London, 1992), 444–61

‘Gesänge aus Ruanda’, in J. Czekanowski: Forschungen im Nil-Kongo-Zwischengebiet, i (Leipzig, 1917), 379–412

‘Ch'ao-t'ien-tzě: eine chinesische Notation und ihre Ausführungen’, AMw, i (1918–19), 477–98

‘Erste Mitteilung über die Blasquinten-Theorie’, Anthropos, xiv–xv (1919–20), 569–70

‘Formanalysen an siamesischen Orchesterstücken’, AMw, ii (1920), 306–33

with M. Wertheimer: ‘Über die Wahrnehmung der Schallrichtung’, Sitzungsbericht der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (1920), 388–96

‘Musikalischer Exotismus’, Melos, ii (1921), 175–82; repr. in Der Auftakt, iv (1924), 274–6

‘Beobachtungen über ein- und zweiohriges Hören’, Psychologische Forschung, iv (1923), 64–114

‘Musik der Makuschí, Taulipáng und Yekuaná’, in T. Koch-Grünberg: Von Roroima zum Orinoco, iii (Stuttgart, 1923), 397–442; Eng. trans., M. Herndon, Inter-American Music Bulletin, no.71 (1969), 1–42

‘Die Entstehung des Jodelns’, Musikwissenschaftlicher Kongress: Basle 1924, 203–10

‘Die Einheit der Sinne’, Melos, iv (1924–5), 290–97; Eng. trans., Psyche, xxviii (1927), 83–9

‘Physiologische Akustik’, Jahresbericht über die gesamte Physiologie und experimentelle Pharmakologie: 1922, i (1925), 372–96

‘Die Musik der Semai auf Malakka’, Anthropos, xxi (1926), 277 only

‘Psychologie der Gehörserscheinungen’, in A. Bethe and others: Handbuch der normalen und pathologischen Physiologie, xi (Berlin, 1926), 701–30

with O. Abraham: ‘Zur Psychologie der Tondistanz’, Zeitschrift für Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnersorgane, no.98 (1926), 233–49

‘Ethnologisches zu Jazz’, Melos, vi (1927), 510–12; repr. in Deutsche Tonkünstler-Zeitung, xxvi/468 (1928), 30–31

‘Laut und Sinn’, Festschrift Meinhof (Hamburg, 1927), 329–48

‘African Negro Music’, Africa, i (1928), 30–62; repr. in International Institute of African Languages and Cultures: Memorandum, iv (London, 1928), 1–35

‘Die Massnorm als kulturgeschichtliches Forschungsmittel’, Festschrift: publication d'hommage offerte au P.W. Schmidt, ed. W. Koppers (Vienna, 1928), 303–23

‘Tonart und Ethos’, Musikwissenschaftliche Beiträge: Festschrift für Johannes Wolf, ed. W. Lott, H. Osthoff and W. Wolffheim (Berlin, 1929/R), 73–8

‘Gestaltpsychologisches zur Stilkritik’, Studien zur Musikgeschichte: Festschrift für Guido Adler (Vienna, 1930/R), 12–16

‘Phonographierte isländische Zwiegesänge’, Deutsche Islandforschung, i, ed. W.H. Vogt (Breslau, 1930), 300–20

‘Phonographische Methoden’, Handbuch der biologischen Arbeitsmethoden, v, ed. E. Abderhalden (Berlin, 1930), 419–38

with K. Lindström, ed.: Musik des Orients: ein Schallplattenfolge orientalischer Musik von Japan bis Tunis, Odeon 04490–04491 (1931) [reissued as Music of the Orient, Decca SX 107 DL 9505 (1951)]

with R. Lachmann: ‘Asiatische Parallelen zur Berbermusik’, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Musikwissenschaft, i (1933), 4–11

with R. Lachmann: ‘Das indische Tonsystem bei Bharata und sein Ursprung’, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Musikwissenschaft, i (1933), 73–91

‘Carl Stumpf und die vergleichende Musikwissenschaft’, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Musikwissenschaft, i (1933), 25–8

‘The Ethnology of African Sound-Instruments’, Africa, vi (1933), 129–57, 277–311 [comments on C. Sachs: Geist und Werden der Musikinstrumente]

‘Zum Kongress für arabischen Musik – Kairo 1932’, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Musikwissenschaft, i (1933), 16–18

‘Fuegian Songs’, American Anthropologist, new ser., xxxviii (1936), 357–67; enlarged as ‘The Music of the Fuegians’, Ethnos, xiii (1948), 62–102

with G. Tessmann and K. Haddon: ‘Chama String Games (Peru)’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, lxix (1939), 163–86

‘Geburt und erste Kindheit der Musik’, Jb für musikalische Volks- und Völkerkunde, vii (1973), 9–17 [posth. pubn of lecture delivered in 1928]


Classification of instruments

What is vibrating?

General term for musical instruments that produce their sound by setting up vibrations in a body of air. Aerophones form one of the original four classes of instruments (along with idiophones, membranophones and chordophones) in the hierarchical classification devised by E.M. von Hornbostel and C. Sachs and published by them in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie in 1914 (Eng. trans. in GSJ, xiv, 1961, pp.3–29, repro. in Ethnomusicology: an Introduction, ed. H. Myers, London, 1992, pp.444–61). Their system, which draws on that devised by Victor-Charles Mahillon for the Royal Conservatory in Brussels and is widely used today, divides instruments into groups which employ air, strings, membranes or sonorous materials to produce sounds. Various scholars, including Galpin (Textbook of European Instruments, London, 1937) and Sachs (History of Musical Instruments, New York, 1940), have suggested adding electrophones to the system, but it has not yet been formally extended.

Aerophones are subdivided into ‘free aerophones’ (e.g. the bullroarer), in which vibrations are set up in a body of air unconfined by the structure of the instrument, and wind instruments where the air is enclosed inside a tube or vessel. The latter group includes those instruments where sound is produced by directing a stream of air against an edge (flutes and duct flutes), by the vibration of a reed, or by the vibration of the player’s lips. Each category is further subdivided according to the more detailed characteristics of an instrument. A numeric code, similar to the class marks of the Dewey decimal library classification system, indicates the structure and physical function of the instrument. The Hornbostel-Sachs classification (from the GSJ translation, with minor alterations) follows as an appendix to this article.

Membranophones are subdivided into those which are struck, those which are sounded by friction and those which resonate in sympathy with some other sound (‘singing membranes’). A fourth category, plucked drums, was included by Hornbostel and Sachs but subsequent research (L. Picken and others in Musica asiatica, iii, 1981) has suggested that these should be reclassified as variable tension chordophones. Each category is further subdivided according to the more detailed characteristics of an instrument. A numeric code, similar to the class marks of the Dewey decimal library classification system, indicates the structure and physical function of the instrument. The Hornbostel-Sachs classification (from the GSJ translation, with minor alterations) follows as an appendix to this article.

Idiophones are subdivided into those which are struck, scraped, plucked, made to sound by friction or blown. The sound may be produced by the direct or the indirect action of the player. Each category is further subdivided according to the more detailed characteristics of an instrument. A numeric code, similar to the class marks of the Dewey decimal library classification system, indicates the structure and physical function of the instrument. The Hornbostel-Sachs classification (from the GSJ translation, with minor alterations) follows as an appendix to this article.

Chordophones are subdivided into zither-like instruments including the piano and harpsichord, classified as ‘simple chordophones’, and ‘composite chordophones’ where the structure includes a neck, yoke or other component which acts as a string holder. The plucked drums, which were classified with the membranophones by Hornbostel and Sachs, have since been identified as variable tension chordophones but the classified list has not yet been updated. Each category is further subdivided according to the more detailed characteristics of an instrument. A numeric code, similar to the class marks of the Dewey decimal library classification system, indicates the structure and physical function of the instrument. The Hornbostel-Sachs classification (from the GSJ translation, with minor alterations) follows as an appendix to this article.

And: hydrophones and electrophones.

For further information on the classification of instruments in general, see Instruments, classification of. See also Variable tension chordophone.


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