Saving Venice’s ancient music

Venezia, 16/11/19 - i Volontari "angeli dell'acqua alta" mettono ad asciugare i libri e gli spartiti danneggiati al conservatorio benedetto Marcello ©Marco Sabadin/Vision - volontari ragazzi e ragazze portano all'asciutto gli spartiti e i libri antichi del conservatorio - fotografo: marco sabadin/vision

Notes, dissolving and fading forever. String, fraying and yielding the pages it had held together. Paper, buckling and disintegrating while sticking to each other. This was the horrible scene facing volunteers at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory of Music when the ‘acqua alta’ in Venice threatened centuries-old manuscripts with extinction.

Volunteers in Venice worked tirelessly to save the ancient music scores and books stored in the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory of Music. Volunteers in the island city rushed to save historic scores and stacks of books as floodwaters rose. The Benedetto Marcello Conservatory of Music appealed for help on social media after rain and strong winds triggered the disaster.

The scores were largely works of the 17th and 18th century. Some 300 of these works of art were saved. The archives of the conservatory were built on purpose to safeguard against the high tides known in Venice as the ‘Acqua Alta’. The highest ever recorded had been in 1966 and the conservatory had been built to withstand that. On the fateful night of the 12th November, the tide rose even higher to touch the lowest of the shelves. The volunteers lovingly gathered the books and manuscripts and patted them dry under the strict supervision of the cultural experts.

Among the works which were saved were some by Vivaldi, some first editions by Beethoven and works by Cimarosa. The volunteers are now cataloguing the saved documents prior to being sent to Bologna for restoration.