Top 10: Highlights of the Royal College of Music Museum

By Royal College of Music

The Royal College of Music Museum has a collection of over 15,000 musical treasures. The exhibition explores some of the most spectacular objects in our collection as chosen by the museum team. Explore more of our collections at museumcollections.rcm.ac.uk

Clavicytherium (c. 1480) by AnonymousRoyal College of Music

Upright harpsichord [Clavicytherium] - maker unknown, Germany, c. 1480

This unique upright harpsichord is the oldest surviving stringed keyboard instrument in the world, dating from c. 1480.

Fragment of legal document - Clavicytherium (c. 1480) by AnonymousRoyal College of Music

Its maker is unknown, but thanks to a fragment of legal document on one of the internal joints, we can speculate it was built in Ulm, in the south of modern Germany.

RCM Museum Clavicytherium ExcerptRoyal College of Music

This video shows a replica, built for the museum in 1973, being played by Terence Charlston.

Guitar by Belchior Dias (1581) by Belchior DiasRoyal College of Music

Guitar - Belchior Dias, Lisbon, 1581

The earliest surviving guitar in the world, this Renaissance guitar has a distinctive back with seven ridges.

Pegbox of guitar by Belchior Dias (1581) by Belchior DiasRoyal College of Music

The neck and head also feature an intricate inlaid marquetry design alongside the maker’s mark.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1890) by Edward Burne-JonesRoyal College of Music

Portrait of Ignacy Jan Paderewski - Edward Burne-Jones, London, 1890

While walking one day, artist Edward Burne-Jones spotted ‘an Archangel with a splendid halo of golden hair, treading the London pavements.’ He immediately returned to his studio to create this portrait.

His archangel turned out to be Polish pianist and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski. The musician inspired intense devotion from his fans thanks to his wild hair and virtuoso talent. He would later serve as Prime Minister of Poland and sign the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of his country.

Harpsichord by Alessandro Trasuntino (1531) by Alessandro TrasuntinoRoyal College of Music

Harpsichord - Alessandro Trasuntino, Venice, 1531

This harpsichord is an exceptionally beautiful example of early Venetian harpsichord-making.

Trasuntino harpsichord (1531) by Alessandro TrasuntinoRoyal College of Music

The decoration inside the lid, depicting Venus and Cupid with a hunting scene, was painted in the mid-16th century in the style of Titian.

Slide trombone (tenor in B flat), Hawkes & Son (1890/1920) by Hawkes & SonRoyal College of Music

Gustav Holst's Trombone - Hawkes & Sons, London, late 19th or early 20th century

This unassuming trombone has a famous associate – it was owned and played by composer Gustav Holst in the early 20th century.

Postcard photograph of Gustav HolstRoyal College of Music

According to his daughter, Imogen, Holst purchased it to perform in Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols.

Clarinet (in D) by Georg Heinrich Scherer (circa 1750) by Georg Heinrich SchererRoyal College of Music

Ivory Clarinet - Georg Heinrich Scherer, Butzbach, c. 1740

Clarinets were introduced in the early 1700s and became popular thanks to composers such as Mozart, who championed the instrument in a series of concertos. This clarinet is one of the earliest surviving examples.

Ivory woodwind instrumentsRoyal College of Music

The Royal College of Music Museum houses several musical instruments made of or decorated with ivory. This precious material was widely used in musical instrument production from the 15th century. By the nineteenth century thousands of elephants were killed every year just to supply material for piano keys. While beautiful, these instruments serve as a reminder of the cost that historical tastes have had on the natural world.

Musical box (mid 20th century) by AnonymousRoyal College of Music

Singing Bird Box - attributed to Karl Griesbaum, mid-20th century

A brightly coloured bird emerges from inside this gold musical box to sing for its audience before withdrawing into its gilded cage.

This box dates from the mid-20th century and is believed to be the work of German music-box maker Karl Griesbaum, a company which dominated the industry for more than fifty years. Here a Griesbaum box can be seen in action.

Pedal harp by Sébastien Érard (1800) by Sébastien ÉrardRoyal College of Music

Pedal Harp - Sébastian Érard, London, 1800

In 1794, Sébastian Érard filed his first English harp patent. Six years later he built this single-action pedal harp here in London.

Detail of pedal harp by Sébastien Érard (1800) by Sébastien ÉrardRoyal College of Music

Decorated in neo-classical style, it was gifted to the Royal College of Music Museum in 1949 by Lady Anne Rhys, 7th Duchess of Cuidad Rodrigo.

Extract from the harp ledgers of the Erard companyRoyal College of Music

These company ledgers, also in our collection, show the popularity of his harps – documenting the sale of 6,862 harps from Bath to Calcutta.

Elgar’s map to Brinkwells Cottage (1921) by Edward ElgarRoyal College of Music

Hand-drawn map - Edward Elgar, Sussex, 1921

Composer Edward Elgar drew this map on 27 May 1921 to guide his friend, violinist William Henry Reed, to his cottage at Brinkwells from the nearby village of Pulborough.

Elgar included landmarks such as a 15th century bridge, the Swan Inn, and even his dog Meg.

Hamburger cithrinchen (1676) by Joachim TielkeRoyal College of Music

Bell cittern [Hamburger cithrinchen] - Joachim Tielke, Hamburg, 1676

This little instrument is a reinvention of the cittern, a popular Renaissance string instrument. The bell cittern became a specialty of makers in Hamburg in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Created by renowned instrument maker Joachim Tielke, this Cithrinchen features an elaborate marquetry pattern on its sides.

Top 10 Best (Collage) (1480 - 20th century) by VariousRoyal College of Music

We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring some of the exceptional objects in the Royal College of Music Museum collection. To see more amazing artefacts and artwork, visit our website www.rcm.ac.uk/museum

Credits: Story

Special thanks to Anna Maria Barry

Video: Kristina Smith YouTube channel

Concept: Maura Kalthoff and Lydia Baldwin

Text and image selection: Maura Kalthoff

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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