In preparation for a special publication to be published on the occasion of Arnold Schönberg’s 150th birthday (September 2024), the fair copy of Schönberg’s Piano Concerto op. 42 underwent conservation treatment for preservation purposes. Verena Graf reports.

In the surviving state of the particell (short score), attention was initially drawn to Schönberg’s handling of his manuscript: the use of self-adhesive tape as a means of mounting music paper to sheets in a booklet. The visual impact was dominated by more than 500 pieces of tape that had turned brown with age.

The composer used self-adhesive tape that had recently been launched on the market in the United States at the time. Its transparency meant that it could be used on both sides of the music paper. He positioned the tape carefully, never affixing a strip over the notation and only over a few page/measure numbers. When he inserted sections with corrections (see source description), Schönberg cut out small pieces of paper in order to position them precisely between the writing and the lines, and he also replaced larger sections of music paper.

It was necessary to strike a balance between preserving the original condition – albeit altered over the course of 80 years since its genesis – and the detrimental effects caused by assembly of the book. This includes disfiguring discoloration, loss of transparency, a change in consistency resulting in stickiness, oily components soaking into the paper, and also a loss of adhesive properties. The pieces of tape had to be removed in order to avoid further damage and secure long-term preservation for archiving. At the present time, there is no product in existence with the same or similar visual characteristics which could replace the transparent, shiny adhesive tape, and as a result this intervention also changes the aesthetic qualities of the object. The paper itself was subjected to structural modifications as well: the edges of the leaves were squashed or distorted, and in some places there were folds and tears. Some corners with sharp folds were in danger of breaking off completely, and corners of the booklet were brittle and torn.

Tears are mended using cooked wheat starch paste. Weights (blocks of cast-iron wrapped in protective paper) are placed on the adhesive for several hours.

Short score, page 24, mending the tear with wheat starch paste

Sketch, before conservation (left), and with mended tear (right)

Using a hot air pen, all the strips of adhesive tape can be softened and the cellophane film carrier lifted off the tacky adhesive tape using tweezers. Remnants of the adhesive tape are removed using rapidly evaporating white spirit (petrol ether 60–95°) and tiny swabs. The discolored, reddish brown strips of tape on the rear of the paper are more stubborn and therefore need pre-treatment with solvent vapors.

Particell, page 24, treatment with solvent vapors of the adhesive tape on the rear of the paper

Removing oily components with sepiolite poultices involves white spirit.

Small pieces of thin Japanese paper are used for inserts; the adhesive is a synthetic cellulose gel solubilized in acetone. The pieces of Japanese paper, quickly coated with the rapidly evaporating gel, are positioned with the tweezers, smoothed out and weighted down.

The condition of the pages prior to conservation was recorded in the form of high-resolution digital copies.