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Germans battle time, elements to mend Bach's music

Bach music
Restoring one deteriorating page of Bach's music by hand costs $300 to $500  

LEIPZIG, Germany (CNN) -- Two hundred and fifty years after his death, Johann Sebastian Bach's music is a powerful and enduring legacy. But the precious notes he scrawled are slowly vanishing -- even though they're under lock and key.

Experts say the iron- or copper-based ink and cloth paper he used contained or produced sulfuric acid over the years. As a result, Bach's very notes are disappearing in a slow-burn chemical reaction -- literally eating themselves right off the page.

But in a high-tech industrial park on the edge of Leipzig, there's a battle being waged to arrest -- and even reverse -- the aging process through a delicate and risky process.

Using a technique called paper-splitting, gelatin is spread on two sheets of cellulose. Next, the page is sandwiched between them and pressed. Then comes the trickiest part -- splitting the page in two by pulling the cellulose sheets apart, leaving the top of the page stuck on one sheet and the back of it on the other.

"There is no room here for mistakes," said Wolfgang Waechter, technical director at the Center for Book Preservation. "This realization takes hold on your mind. It's like being a heart surgeon who is about to perform a transplant operation."

Raising money for repairs

Literally inside the page, restorers can patch the holes and add a thin sheet of cellulose for reinforcement. The page is stuck back together, now in more durable form.

paper-splitting
Wolfgang Waechter performs the paper-splitting process. Once the page is split in two, holes are patched and a thin sheet of cellulose is added for reinforcement  

Waechter says about 2,000 of the estimated 9,000 pages of Bach archives in Germany are damaged enough to require repair. Each page costs $300 to $500 to restore, and the Bach archives office in Berlin is seeking sponsors to finish the work that is less than half complete.

Waechter says he has also restored archives from other countries -- including history books and newspapers like the 1912 New York Times editions reporting the sinking of the Titanic.

His company has designed machines that do the restoration job more quickly and -- he says -- just as well. And for about $5 a page.

"When we use machines, the chances of a mistake are smaller, because the subjective element is removed," he said.

But German archives officials overrode him and opted for the more hands-on method -- to save the handiwork of a master.



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RELATED SITES:
Bach-Archiv Leipzig
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