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Heinrich Gerber's Manuscript of the Well-tempered Clavier: Preserving the Manuscript

p. 66 detail before treatment

This comparison shows a detail of page 66 of the manuscript before treatment (above) and after treatment (below). Note how the page has been patched in the past in the upper-right corner. The original paper was on the other side of the patch, and not visible from this side. Conservator Amy Crist was able to remove the patch and restore the original to a large extent, so that it is now visible from both sides. She also separated the leaf from the adjoining leaves and removed adhesive, revealing the kustoden (indications of where the music goes on the next staff) in the right margin.

Detail of page 66 after treatment

Paper conservator Amy Crist shares her work on the Gerber manuscript with BW students and faculty (below).

Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier

At some point in the 18th or 19th century, the manuscript, which was originally written on separate leaves, was bound together. This made it difficult to see the margins (gutters) of some of the pages, and had caused some of the pages to tear along the adhesive line. The condition of the paper is generally good, although there has been some loss along the edges.

In 2019, the Riemenschneider Bach Institute obtained a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), awarded by the State Library of Ohio, to restore and preserve the manuscript. We contracted with paper conservator Amy Crist to perform the work. Upon examining the Gerber manuscript, it became clear that in order to preserve the leaves and prevent further tearing, they needed to be removed from the existing binding. The question became whether to attach the leaves together in a new binding or leave them separate. After lengthy consultation with Amy, the RBI staff decided it would be best to keep the leaves separate. The separation of individual leaves sometimes made visible paper that had been hidden in the gutter. In two cases, leaves proved too difficult to separate without damage, so those remain together.

Amy spent about two weeks in the RBI, painstakingly separating the leaves, removing traces of adhesive, redoing old repairs, and mending the paper. Mends were done using Japanese paper adhered with wheat paste. Where needed, edges were reinforced with the same materials to prevent further damage. Wheat paste is a gentle, water-soluble adhesive, and Japanese paper is a strong, flexible archival paper. With these materials and techniques, all repairs are reversible should that be necessary in the future.

Amy also created a paper sleeve for each leaf and a new enclosure for the set. It is now possible for staff and scholars to view the manuscript mostly without touching it. The manuscript is housed in the RBI’s vault, where an upgraded temperature and humidity control system helps to ensure that this manuscript and the other treasures in the possession of the RBI will remain available for study long into the future. The RBI extends its thanks to Amy Crist and to the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services and the State Library of Ohio for providing the grant that made this work possible.

Paul Cary

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Paul Cary
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Subjects: MUS