Black fingers, or, Hans keller unboxed…

Sorting the Hans Keller archive.   Photo © Alison Garnham

Sorting the Hans Keller archive.
Photo © Alison Garnham

Those of you who have read our earlier posts on this most prolific of musicians will know what an extraordinary man Hans Keller was. For the last few weeks I have been (and still am) engaged on a task fascinating and frustrating in equal measure: a preliminary sort of the unsorted material in his archive (what in posh language is called a Scoping Study) so that we can see What Needs To Be Done ande How Long It Might Take. I thought you might like to join me for a moment on my journey of discovery.

There are, at the last count, 25 as yet unsorted boxes in the Keller Archive sitting quietly on the shelves downstairs, silent as to their content. I manhandle (or should that be womanhandle?) the first one off the shelf and carry it reverently, arm muscles shrieking in protest, up to the office, lower it gingerly onto the table, ease the lid off and spread the files and papers out.

Inside, rather like Ratty’s Hamper are all manner of good things: manuscriptstypescriptsbriefingnotesnewspapercuttingsconcertprogrammeslettersjournals, notebooksscoresfestivalbrochuresmorelettersbbcmemos…and more besides. Where to start? How to bring order to all this?

Already my fingers are black…do I feel faintly unwell or is it simply hot in here? I’m sure I didn’t lick my fingers (absolutely NOT something we librarians do) as I carefully separated the thin and fragile sheets of a typescript to put in a special conservation folder, eased off a nasty, rusted paperclip to replace it with a new brass one.

Handbill for the first performance of FA no.10: Mozart's Clarinet Quintet.

Handbill for the first performance of FA no.10: Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet.
© Cosman-Keller Art and Music Trust.

Gradually, however, as I work steadily through the boxes, themes begin to emerge and it is possible to set up files for events, particular types of material (such as concert programmes and letters) and distinct strands of Keller’s work (the BBC, the Menuhin School) in a way which echoes what has already been documented.   I also set up files for new categories of material such as film reviews, Dartington Summer Schools, the 1963 Leeds Piano Competition and Keller’s libretto for Josef Tal’s 1983 opera Der Turm.

Fingers even blacker and feeling rather faint. Definitely time for a coffee break…

Restored, I decide that the sensible thing to do now, is to make an inventory of the contents of each box which can then be cross-checked to see where there are matching strands which then, in turn, will tell me what needs to be brought together so that we have like with like and a dangerously logical structure to our archive that will, I hope, be useful to people who want to come and work on it (which is, of course, the object of the exercise).

Here’s an example of the kind of mix and match in just a single box:

  • Green plastic folder of very early materials, the majority concerning Keller’s mother Greta.
  • Critics’ Circle membership list 1977
  • Reviews and reactions to Criticism (published posthumously)
  • Assessment of Carl Flesch’s Lebenserinnerungen
  • Typescript of Keller’s libretto for Josef Tal’s opera Der Turm
  • MS draft for index to the Great Haydn Quartets
  • Papers and correspondence concerning the Symposium on mental health organised by the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights, a group sponsored by the Church of Scientology.
  • Orange folder containing (a) aphorisms (b) material on language (c) short notes on composers
  • Communication in Action conference (Keller gave the inaugural address), Durban 1970.
  • Photocopies of articles in the German press on the Bremen Pro Musica Nova [John] Cage Festival concerts.
  • Light blue folder containing possible Grove 6 entry for Keller.
  • Miscellany file for further consideration

Only another 24 to go!

Aphorism on a theme close to keller's heart written on a most unusual item.

Aphorism on a theme close to Keller’s heart, written on a most unusual item.
© Cosman-Keller Art and Music Trust.

For me, what has been reinforced an hundred fold during this sorting exercise, is the extraordinary amount of work Keller was able to encompass and the variety of topics over and above music and especially his beloved Haydn he embraced with his typical vigour, thoroughness, clarity and enthusiasm.   Black fingers or not, it’s been worth it.

Finally, I should say that this little piece was, in part, inspired by a conversation over a cup of tea on the Lakeside Terrace at the Barbican arising from my complaint about black fingers resulting from the task…I was advised to be careful…Umberto Eco was mentioned…need I say more? And so, dear reader, if this turns out to be my Last Post, you will know that I Licked My Fingers to turn the pages…


Enquiries concerning the Hans Keller archive can be emailed to:


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2 Responses to Black fingers, or, Hans keller unboxed…

  1. Pingback: At the event: Hans Keller at the 1954 Salzburg Festival | MusiCB3 Blog

  2. Pingback: The Marion Scott Haydn Collection | MusiCB3 Blog

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