The Sadler partbooks belong to the Bodleian Library, and have long been almost inaccessible to scholars because of the deterioration to the paper caused by the acidity of the ink. On many pages the ink has bled, causing the text to lose clarity, but more alarming on some pages it has burned through from front to back, leaving dark spodges or holes in the page. After many years during which the books simply could not be handled, they have now been disbound and conserved, and the most delicate leaves backed with chinese papers to reinforce them. It is still difficult to examine the MSS personally as despite this careful conservation they are very fragile. Their contents however are of interest to many scholars and performers, and the Sadler Partbooks Project hopes to pay for the books to be digitized by the Bodleian Digitization Studio and to train a graduate student in the necessary techniques of digital restoration to create a usable and easily readable ‘restored’ set of images that will allow the books to be published in facsimile by DIAMM Publications, thus making them avaiailable for anyone to study or to use for performing. This type of partbook collection is particularly suitable for viol consorts and vocal groups, and the music is by most of the leading composers of the 17th century in England and Europe. DIAMM is known for the spectacular results we have achieved with digital restoration, sometimes creating a readable page from one where it may not even be possible to see music on the original. This is made possible by the use of high-resolution imaging.
Where we have undertaken digital restoration of images that we have permission to show on the main DIAMM website, we also provide secondary images showing these restorations.Providing scholars with access to content that has been invisible for centuries is exciting and rewarding: each discovery increases our knowledge of our past and the sound world that we have inherited, and the importance of working from these primary sources rather than editions is now recognised as of vital importance if we are to understand how music was used and performed by, and for, the people for whom it was written.
A wide variety of techniques are used, from simple colour adjustments to improve contrast, to complex cloning tecniques which repair pages damaged by burn-through. This was the technique used for pages of Bologna MS Q.15 (show on the left) for Margaret Bent’s award-winning study of this manuscript. We hope to exploit the techniques pioneered in this publication with the Sadler part books. The images above and below show ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots of a fragment in the collection of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
The video below shows the type of restoration work that we plan to undertake on the Sadler partbooks before publication.