Lachmann, Robert

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LACHMANN, ROBERT (1892–1939), ethnomusicologist who was born in Berlin. He studied English, French, and Arabic at the universities of Berlin and London. His first contact with non-Western (especially Arab) music took place during World War i when he was sent to the Wünsdorf pow camp to collect folklore and traditional music from prisoners; there he met Arab soldiers and made his first attempts at transcribing their songs. This work was encouraged by Erich von Hornbostel and Curt *Sachs, then members of the Berlin Phonogrammarchiv. After 1918 he studied musicology under Johannes Wolf and Carl Stumpf and Semitic languages under Eugen Mittwoch at Berlin University, taking his doctorate in 1922 with a dissertation on urban music in Tunisia based on his own field recordings. In 1924 he joined the Berlin Staatsbibliothek and studied librarianship. After a year in Kiel (1926) he returned to the Berlin Staatsbibliothek to take up a post in the music department under Wolf. Meanwhile he continued to study Near Eastern music, mainly during several recording expeditions in North Africa. In 1925 he visited Tripoli, and in 1926 and 1929 was again in Tunisia recording fellahin and Bedouin music, as well as the songs of the Jewish community on the Isle of Djerba where he made the first recordings of the local Jewish community. These provided the material for his last work, Jewish Cantillation and Song in the Isle of Djerba, which was published posthumously in Jerusalem in 1940 and is regarded as a major contribution to Jewish and comparative ethnomusicology. At his instigation the Gesellschaft zur Erforschung der Musik des Orients was founded in 1930, and he edited its quarterly journal, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Musikwissenschaft, throughout the three years of its lifetime (1933–5). Being Jewish, Lachmann lost his job at the Berlin Staatsbibliothek under the Nazi government. In 1935, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem invited him to open a Phonogram Archive for Oriental Music. His research during his last four years in Jerusalem (1935–9) marked the start of modern ethnomusicology in Israel. He brought with him his earlier recordings of Arab music (about 500 items recorded in North Africa) and made 1,000 more recordings, which brought to light a number of oral liturgies preserved by Middle Eastern Jewish communities in Jerusalem but originating elsewhere. In Jerusalem Lachmann tried a new approach to the complexities of Jewish music, and in Jewish Cantillationand Song in the Isle of Djerba (1940) finally evolved a way of describing a community comprehensively through a detailed structural analysis of the recorded materials. His aim was to set the picture of North African Jewish music against the larger background of Islamic music civilizations, thus demonstrating that the music of an independent religious community could be influenced by neighboring cultures. Lachmann was one of the finest exponents of the early European school of comparative musicology, stressing comparative analysis of musical formsand their morphological qualities as well as the variants and parallels of one single type (e.g., women's laments, folk epics, ritual songs) around the world. He deepened insight into the worldwide relationships of such basic forms. Another of his achievements was to enlarge the understanding of the intricate forms of ornamental variation and improvisation in Arab music. His archives are held by the Music Department (Mus. 26) of the Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem. His original recordings, especially those made on tin records, were unavailable until only recently, when, through new technologies, they were rerecorded by the Sound Archives of the National Library.


Blom (ed.), Grove's Dict, 5 (1954), 5–5; Slonimsky (ed.), Baker's Biog Dict, s.v.; E. Gerson-Kiwi, in: Acta Musicologica, 30 (1958), 17–26. add. bibliography: idem, "Two Anniversaries: Two Pioneers in Jewish Ethnomusicology," in: Orbis musicae, 2 (1973–4), 17–28 (A.Z. Idelsohn, R. Lachmann); idem, "Robert Lachmann: His Achievement and his Legacy," in: Yuval, 3 (1974), 100–08 (incl. inventory of the Lachmann Archive and complete list of published writings); R. Katz, The Lachmann Problem: An Unsung Chapter in Comparative Musicology (2003); R. Davis, "Robert Lachmann's Oriental Music: A Broadcasting Initiative in 1930s Palestine," in: The Mediterranean in Music (2005), 79–95.

[Edith Gerson-Kiwi /

Gila Flam (2nd ed.)]