How to Mount Tiny Musical Examples

October 1, 1985

In the course of preparing the introduction to the Pierpont Morgan Library facsimile of Mozart's C-major Piano Concerto, K. 467 (to be published by Dover), I faced for the Nth time the definitely sticky problem of mounting tiny cutouts of musical staves to form a musical example. Very small examplets raise special problems: each of these 5-line bits must be aligned with great precision, since the eye seems to pick up the tiniest discrepancies in alignment, and five lines provide constant points of microcomparison. Example 1 is a reproduction of the trickiest line I assembled, by no means perfect, but marginally acceptable.


Example 1. Mozart's "Pollywog" bass-clefs (from the autograph of the C-major Piano Concerto, K. 467)

This collection of bass-clefs, samples of the amusing "pollywog" form produced by Mozart's high-speed notation (particularly in the finale), presented severe challenges in the mounting process. After considerable Sturm und Drang I finally evolved several small techniques that may be helpful to other sufferers in the cut-and-paste sector of our discipline.

Perhaps the most useful tool I discovered was the 3-inch hatpin, which nowadays must be inherited from one's grandmother. (I have an extra pin, for lending out, in case your grandmother was more modern than mine and left no such peculiar legacies.) A second useful tool is a small forceps, with which you can handle the little bits of paper without sticking to them. Also, don't try to use that old tube of rubber cement that has been lying in your bottom desk drawer for three years: fresh cement is an absolute necessity for preparing camera-ready copy.

Conventional wisdom in this area—"how-to-do-its" for commercial art, architectural models, copy editing, and museum exhibitionism—may counsel you to apply the rubber cement to the back of the example. Beware: This just won't work for a composite illustration assembled from numerous tiny sub-examples: the cement application inevitably produces blobs or thick streaks, neither of which will lie flat when you try to match the little bits of the puzzle. True to its nature, the rubber remains elastic, so that after you think you have carefully aligned the staff lines by micro-adjustments, in the further drying of the cement the rubber seems to remember where it was before you adjusted it, so that it often pulls back gradually to a non-aligned status. Furthermore, in the process it takes a special gift for fingering to avoid depositing little black balls of mixed xerox dust and rubber all over the scene of the crime. The trick is to reverse the process: apply the cement as thinly and evenly as possible to the backing sheet, not to the example. This avoids most of the blobs and streaks, so that you have a flat plane to work on. Then as you make the small final adjustments, very little adhesion takes place until the definitive "fix." The rubber thus has nothing to "remember" and retains the proper position. The full process, including some further useful details, can be painfully summarized in the following steps:

  1. Xerox the tiny sub-examples any old way on light card stock, which will not curl maddeningly as you try to position it.
  2. Coat the example area of the backing sheet lightly with rubber cement, slightly thinned if you happen to have a proper thinner—don't use gasoline or gin. Let dry at least half an hour.
  3. Cut out the individual parts of the example. Then, using the forceps, position one corner of a tiny cutout as accurately as possible, holding this corner in place with the hat-pin, which then serves as a pivot point around which you can swivel the rest into position. Finally, press the cutout down with the forceps, which won't stick to it or smudge it the way my thumbs always manage to do.
  4. If there are any smudge-balls or other indiscretions remaining, blithely ignore them: it is much easier to use correction fluid on a xerox than to attempt an erasure on the backing sheet. So, handling your masterpiece with appropriate delicacy, xerox the whole thing quickly (before it falls apart). Yes, 5 copies—something always goes wrong, and you're sure to need extras.

Whew—having gone through all the above, it now occurs to me that you (if you have read this far) will probably invent something better. Good luck!

1898 Last modified on October 24, 2018