SPK at Your Service: Thomas Ertelt

29.04.2021SPK at Your Service: Thomas Ertelt

What special interests and skills do people bring to their work at the SPK? We asked the director of the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung (State Institute for Music Research).

Record: Stefan Müchler

A man in an office.
Thomas Ertelt, Director of the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung. © SIMPK / Anne-Katrin Breitenborn
Loupe on a piece of paper.
One helpful tool is a "linen tester," a precision magnifier developed by the textile industry to count threads and assess fabric quality. © SIMPK / Anne-Katrin Breitenborn

When you’re dealing with high-quality prints, it’s a good idea to look closely. That still holds true – perhaps more than ever – in the digital age. One helpful tool is a "linen tester," a precision magnifier developed by the textile industry to count threads and assess fabric quality.

Cultural education is very important to me. In that spirit, we have developed an audio-visual quiz involving the sounds of both period and modern instruments. It takes the form of a computer game. The game is called Soundcheck, and the challenge is to match up the images with the sounds. There are thirty categories and four different levels in which players learn about the essential qualities and distinctive characteristics of different musical instruments. Individual features are designed to challenge the player's auditory memory and powers of concentration. In the Superplay sequence, for example, players face the task of correctly identifying new clips taken from sample music that they have already heard.

Close-up of a desktop.
Audio-visual quiz involving the sounds of both period and modern instruments. © SIMPK / Anne-Katrin Breitenborn
A piano with a sheet of music.
Thomas Ertelt uses a small hamorium to check his internal idea of sounds. © SIMPK / Anne-Katrin Breitenborn

Musicologists have to be able to form an impression of a piece of music in their minds. The tonal structure of a score should be discernible by the inner ear with as much precision as possible. This approach works quite well with Haydn. It's not so easy with 19th-century music. And in the case of Schönberg, it's really difficult. In these cases, it's a good idea to check your internal idea of the sound against the sound produced by a real physical instrument. I use a small harmonium, which is fully adequate for this purpose. This sort of instrument (a kind of organ) has a certain appeal for me. Harmoniums hardly ever go out of tune, so special, large models were built on which experiments in "pure intonation" can be carried out. Our Musikinstrumenten-Museum (Museum of Musical Instruments) has one such "orthotonophonium," as they are called.

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