Feb 1, 2014

The Vienna Mozart Society Responds

After having called a special board meeting last week, the Mozartgemeinde Wien (The Vienna Mozart Society) has responded to my review of a project report titled "W. A. Mozart und sein Wiener Umfeld". This research project, which was initiated by this society in 2004 and funded with 4,000 Euros by the City of Vienna's Department of Culture, resulted in a project report that in 2009 was published in a special issue of the society's journal Wiener Figaro. Because this report – written by a totally unqualified and overtaxed student – turned out to be so ludicrously worthless that the whole enterprise basically amounted to fraud, I had suggested in my review that the Mozartgemeinde ought to pay back the grant money. Apart from being unwittingly funny in its breathtaking denial of reality, the Vienna Mozart Society's response points right at the very core of the problem I addressed in the final paragraph of my review: the scholarly skills that are needed to do research on topics such as "Mozart's Viennese Circle" are not taught at Vienna's academic institutions. Most of the expertise that prominent members of the local academia supposedly have in this field is largely fictional. Of course nobody is allowed to address this problem among a group of people who seem to think that the title Professor automatically turns its holder into an omniscient and infallible being. In a pinch this can always be used as a general excuse and the specifically Viennese arguments go like this: "a professor proofread this paper", "a professor recommended her", "a professor supported this grant", "according to the professor this person was the best choice", or (as Mr. Ehalt put it) "several members of the board of this society are professors". Again, please note that the following text is not a piece of satire, but a literal translation of the Vienna Mozart Society's response:
Vienna, January 2014
Dear Dr. Lorenz,
an e-mail you sent to the MA 7/Kultur (the Vienna City Council department funding scholarly research) and the Vienna Mozart Society contains a "review" of a research paper that was submitted by our society to the City of Vienna's Department of Culture, which was completed about seven years ago and was submitted to the funding institution on 15 April 2008. After contacting the MA 7 (Professor Hubert Christian Ehalt) we want to add some general comments and corrections to your letter:

Founded in 1913, the Mozart Society of Vienna saw as an important objective of its activities – next to the numerous other tasks and goals recorded in the Society’s original statutes – the promotion of young musicians, but also of young researchers. In the field of the arts this was usually done through the medium of music awards (sponsorship awards). Young scientists and students were frequently given the opportunity to publish musicological work or articles on music history in the society's journal Wiener Figaro. The research project that we initiated for the Mozart Year 2006 was one of these activities. Naturally, opinions tend to differ as to the quality of artistic and scientific achievements. You were informed in detail by MA 7 regarding the conditions and general procedures of the funding system.

Magister [sic!] Madlene Feyrer was proposed as recipient of this research grant by the entire board of the Vienna Mozart Society. The President of the Society, Dr. Helmut Kretschmer, did not act as research referee for this project. Ms. Feyrer's contact persons within the Mozart Society were the board members  Professor Antonicek and Dr. Andrea Harrandt. As you correctly state in your letter, Dr. Elisabeth Strömmer was originally designated as researcher for this project. After some preliminary work Dr. Strömmer resigned from the task for personal reasons and in the course of events Ms. Madlene Feyrer, then a student of musicology, was commissioned with the implementation of the research project in the terms proposed by our board member Prof. Antonicek. As the title of the project ("Mozart and his Viennese Circle – probate records of Municipal and Provincial Archives") shows, the study was clearly and exclusively focussed on the transcription of selected probate records of municipal and provincial archives held in Vienna.

Professor Antonicek has submitted a statement concerning this issue to the board members which we present here in full:
At the time of her selection for the project of the Mozartgemeinde Ms. Madlene Feyrer was the best available choice among the students of musicology. She had already proved herself many times in various course activities and had also shown the aptitude required for her studies. Considering her age it goes without saying that she could not meet all the requirements that can be made of an experienced scholar. There can be no doubt however that she did her work to the best of her knowledge and belief. The data collected by her provide nothing more than useful material for setting up a framework for further research, which in any case should not be done without a re-examination of the sources. To disregard this in deliberate ignorance and to use these facts against her, something which can harm her in the long run, is a rationally unacceptable and unqualified procedure. (Theophil Antonicek)
The MA 7 supported this research project with a grant of 4,000 Euros. From this amount Ms. Madlene Feyrer received 2,000 Euros; the second half of the funding money was given to Dr. Strömmer. The society Mozartgemeinde Wien therefore did not receive as much as a Cent "under the pretense of scholarly activity". We categorically reject the accusation that the persons involved in this project or the society Mozartgemeinde Wien pursued any fraudulent intentions.

Yours sincerely,

for the Executive Board of the Vienna Mozart Society of Vienna:
Dr. Helmut Kretschmer, Dr. Andrea Harrandt, Prof. Dr. Theophil Antonicek
There are times when one is faced with such an extreme denial of reality that a sudden loss of words  would come as a relief. Although I would like to suffer a bout of aphasia, I still have a few things to say – if only for the sake of telling the readers of this blog about absurdities that occur in the field which is (too often undeservedly) called "Mozart research".

I have decided completely to change my point of view. Until now I held fast to the opinion that not a single member of the board of the Mozart Society had bothered to actually read Ms. Feyrer's project report. And I certainly do not expect that all those caught up in this sorry affair have read my review. One board member of the Mozartgemeinde told me last week in private that he read the report as well as the review and that regarding this issue he has decided "to clam up" ("ich schotte mich ab"). From now on, then, I take a different point of view: I assume that Prof. Antonicek actually read the project report and was simply unable to spot all the inane mistakes and the breathtaking nonsense it contains. I thus come to the following assessment of the events:

A Viennese professor of musicology commissions one of his students with a research task without even checking her actual proficiency in transcribing early 19th-century German handwriting. Professor Antonicek should have been aware of Ms. Feyrer's possible weakness in this regard, since the transcription of historical documents is not being taught at Vienna's institute of musicology. That Feyrer "had already proved herself many times in various course activities and had also shown the aptitude required for her studies", is completely irrelevant. Her project report proves that she could not read a single one of the archival documents she was supposed to summarise. The fact is that she was the worst possible choice for this particular job.

The same professor of musicology is unaware of the fact that the probate records of some of Mozart's acquaintances have already been dealt with in detail in the literature. He thinks that there was a Hungarian count by the name of "Seczewy". He thinks that estates of 18th-century persons mostly contained Devotionalien (devotional objects) and does not realize that Ms. Feyrer does not know the actual meaning of this word. He mistakenly thinks that the writer Joseph Bauernjöpel was a member of Mozart's circle and that the Latin annotation "ad publicum" on a probate document makes sense (the correct term is ad publicandum). The professor thinks that an 18th-century Austrian florin consisted of 100 kreuzer and he is also unaware of the fact that in 1811 the Austrian government introduced a second, less valuable currency, called Wiener Währung (Viennese Currency). He has absolutely no knowledge of the legal proceedings that followed the death of an early 19th-century Viennese citizen. Therefore he thinks that it makes sense to examine the probate records of historical persons without also checking the wills of these individuals. He also assumes that it was the duty of a widow to apply to the court to draw up an estate inventory and that a will of a deceased was held by a lawyer and not forwarded to the court. He thinks that the term "Legitationslimit" is an actual word, which it is not, because it was invented by Ms. Feyrer, when she was unable to read the word Lizitationsdrittel. He does not know that the name of the publisher of the Wiener Musen-Almanach (and head of the I. & R. Court Library) was not "Leon Gottlieb" (as hallucinated by Ms. Feyrer), but Gottlieb Leon. He therefore considers it plausible that Leon's probate documents were signed by the singer Anna Gottlieb[!]. Because he is ignorant of the recent literature about the bass player Anton Grams, he mistakenly thinks that Grams was a member of Mozart's circle, although Grams lived in Prague and only came to Vienna by the end of 1801. He mistakenly thinks that Johann Baptist Henneberg was "k.k. Hofkomponist und Konzertmeister". He thinks that "24 Leichentücher" (burial shrouds) were part of Leopold Hoffmann's estate and does not realize that these items were just what Ms. Feyrer made of Hoffmann's Leintücher (bedsheets). He does not realize that Hoffmann's probate records cannot amount to "103 pages" and that this number of pages is nothing but a hallucination. He includes historical figures such as Dr. Johann Hunczovsky (who had no documented connection with Mozart) in the research project, a person about whom he knows almost nothing. He thus does not realize that the document that Ms. Feyrer "summarized" was not Hunczovsky's actual probate record. He does not know that the actor Dominik Jauz was Friedrich Baumann's father-in-law, and therefore considers "Sophia Lauman" to have been a real person. This professor considers it possible that a court actor, who had retired with an annual pension of 800 Gulden, in his final years also needed an additional income doing tailoring work. He is unaware of the basic literature on the actor Joseph Lange and therefore does not realize that Ms. Feyrer's summary of Lange's probate records is nothing but a mixture of nonsense and desperate fabrication. He is also ignorant of the most important literature concerning the legendary clarinettist Anton Stadler and thus fails to notice all the glaring mistakes in Feyrer's text about this musician. The professor does not know when Georg Summer became court organist and he mistakenly thinks that Mozart had a regular income of 400 Gulden. He thinks that the nonsensical statement "Summer's children got along with each other" not only makes sense but is based on an actual entry in an 1810 probate document. He thinks that the Theater an der Wien is located in Vienna's Josefstadt district. Is a professor who is responsible for such a cornucopia of bloopers really qualified to supervise a research project about "Mozart's Viennese environment"? Is it the job of a university professor to funnel grant money to incompetent students?

The above howlers (apart from countless misspellings and grammatical errors) are just the mistakes that a supervisor of such a project should be able to catch just by proofreading the final report even without  checking the archival sources. If the primary sources proper are examined, it becomes immediately obvious that Ms. Feyrer's paper is not just flawed, but utterly worthless, owing to the lack of bibliographic documentation and the amount of pure nonsense and misinformation it contains. Antonicek himself is now openly acknowledging this problem with his statement that in the future Feyrer's work would basically have to be done all over again ("Further research should not be done without a re-examination of the sources."). The issue at hand is not "a difference of opinion on the quality of a scientific achievement"; the issue is intentional fraud. Ms. Feyrer was the first to realize that she lacked all the necessary research abilities to fulfil the assigned task. She remained silent, her silence being obviously based on the firm belief that Antonicek would never take her to task, and raked in 2,000 Euros for an utterly worthless piece of work. Antonicek's allegation that to criticise Feyrer's glaring incompetence "is a rationally unacceptable and unqualified procedure that can harm her in the long run", is blatantly absurd. The Mozart Society publishes an article and then wants to forbid the scientific community to criticise it? Welcome to reality! Is the work of a student at university level not to be evaluated and criticised anymore? The scientific community is not a sheltered workshop. It was Feyrer herself who damaged her reputation.

The information that Dr. Strömmer also received a fee of 2,000 Euros raises a question which has previously received no attention: what was Dr. Strömmer's contribution to the project? Her scholarly expertise does not show up in the project report which (as she told me personally in September 2013) she has never seen. The selection of the representatives of "Mozart's environment" is flawed. Thanks to the typescript inventory compiled by Gustav Gugitz it takes no more than a half an hour's work in the City Archives' reading room to determine the shelfmarks of the probate documents. More and more does it becomes understandable why Prof. Antonicek is so popular with a section of his students and alumni.

The fact that Prof. Antonicek takes the main responsibility for the catastrophic result of the Mozart Society's research project leads us back to the final paragraph of my review where I wrote:
The University of Vienna is still the institution, where one can write a dissertation about the Vienna "Tonkünstler-Sozietät" without being able actually to read the records of this society. Where one only needs to have read two books on Schubert to get a PhD with a dissertation titled Interpretationsmöglichkeiten zur Vita und zum Werk Franz Schubert's[!]. Where in a dissertation on Joseph Lanner one can refer to non-existent sources, because one can be sure that no one will go into the archives to look for them.
It turns out that two of the three flawed dissertations I used in my review as examples were supervised by Antonicek, who has achieved a legendary reputation of being a nice and trusting teacher who time and again falls victim to the dishonesty and incompetence of his graduates. Claudia Pete's 1996 dissertation Geschichte der Wiener Tonkünstler-Societät was supposed to be based on the huge number of original books, documents and files that survive in a section named Private Institutionen in the Municipal and Provincial Archives of Vienna. But since Pete was obviously unable to read these original documents, she had to base her dissertation on a rehash of Carl Ferdinand Pohl's 1871 book on the history of the Wiener Tonkünstler-Societät, which is proven by the fact that she did not quote a single primary source and copied all of Pohl's errors and ommissions. The only thing she added to Pohl was a systematic overview of the archival holdings, for which she simply used the existing archival directory. A real history of the Tonkünstler-Societät, which is based on the fascinating original documents, still remains to be written. The second case is even more notorious: in 1992 Herbert Krenn wrote a dissertation entitled Joseph Lanner: sein Leben - sein Werk which two years later was published in print by Böhlau under the title "Lenz-Blüthen": Joseph Lanner. Sein Leben - sein Werk. This "biography" of Lanner is significant, because parts of it are based on sources which, though referred to with shelfmarks and the relevant years of death records, do not exist at all. This book, which is fraught with amazing mistakes, is fortunately out of print.

Some university professors seem to think that disregarding even modest quality standards in their graduates' work will never damage their scholarly reputation. They are wrong. Countless musicological dissertations and diploma projects which have been accepted in Vienna during the last thirty years prove that some teachers' primary principle was their popularity with the students, not the demands on the quality of research. A frequently applied method of hiding the hopeless decline of scholarly standards was to block the access to dissertations for at least five years under the pretext of a projected publication. And of course nobody is supposed to address these issues or – Heaven forbid! – dare to criticise a Viennese professor.

The accusation that the Vienna Mozarty Society brings forward in the final paragraph of its response would be simply laughable if it were not at the same time, in its total lack of supporting arguments, pitiable. I never claimed that the society (i.e. its board members) received 4,000 Euros. In the long run it is completely irrelevant who eventually wasted taxpayers' money for a worthless research project that by now has become the laughing-stock of the academic community.