Curt Sachs

American musicologist of German birth, founders of modern organology

Born in Berlin, Sachs studied piano, music theory and composition as a youth in that city. He began a career as an art historian, but promptly became more devoted to music, eventually being appointed director of the Staatliche Instrumentensammlung, a large collection of musical instruments. He reorganised and restored much of the collection, and his career as an organologist began. In 1933, following Nazi persecution, Sachs moved to Paris, and later to the United States, where he settled in New York City.

In 1913, Sachs saw the publication of his book Real-Lexicon der Musikinstrumente, probably the most comprehensive survey of musical instruments in 200 years. As one of the founders of modern organology (the study of the nature and history of musical instruments), he collaborated with Erich von Hornbostel to create the method of classification for musical instruments that is now a standard guide. In 1914 they published the work for which they are probably now best known in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, and today is known as the Sachs-Hornbostel system. Their work remains the most widely used system of classification by ethnomusicologists and organologists. Sachs’s other works include many publications it can be see here.

Primary Sources:

In the Internet Archive there are many of his publications that can be accessed online.

Sachs Curt. World History of the Dance, (Ed. 1963).


Brown Hoard Mayer. "Sachs, Curt" in Oxford Music Online.

"Curt Sachs" in Encyclopaedia Britannica.

"Curt Sachs" in Wikipedia.

Other Resources:

Hertzmann Erich. "Curt Sachs (1881-1959): A Memorial Address". Journal of the American Musicological Society 11,  No. 1 ( 1958): 1-5.

Gétreau Florence,  "Curt Sachs and his Contribution to the Museology of Music". Originally published as “Curt Sachs as a theorist for music museology” in Music’s intellectual history to Blažeković Zdravko, MacKenzie Barbara Dobbs (ed.), 303- 313. New York, NY: Répertoire international de littérature musicale, 2009.

The Lexicon of Persecuted Musicians from the Nazi Era includes a comprehensive bibliography about Curt Sachs.

Marcel-Dubois, Claudie. “Curt Sachs.” Journal of the International Folk Music Council 12 (1960): 88–89. (in French)