The creativity, craft and performance of music through 500 years of instruments
Music excites us, unites us, stirs us, soothes us. From live performances to digital downloads, our days play out to a musical soundtrack. But how and why do instruments, and styles of music, change so much over time?
The Royal College of Music Museum explores questions like these using instruments, manuscripts and artworks from the last 500 years of Western classical music. You can see the earliest surviving instrument that has both strings and a keyboard (the beautiful clavicytherium), the world’s oldest guitar, innovative instruments of their time like the pedal harp and clarinet, and instruments now largely lost to history, such as the baryton and chittarone. The creativity and craft of music, and the importance of composition and performance, flow throughout the gallery.
I was delighted to work with the team to create the text for the new displays. Here is a brief video introduction to the museum which I made after visiting the completed project.
In 2018 I first became aware of the exciting redevelopment plans for the museum, as part of a large capital project at the Royal College of Music. I used to visit the college for piano lessons through an Ash Music Scholarship when I was a student at Imperial College in the 1990s, so it was great to make contact with the museum team.
I worked with Gabriele Rossi Rognoni, Lydia Baldwin, Anna Maria Barry and audience specialist Nicky Boyd to develop text for a roadshow of significant instruments from the collection, before moving on to apply what we had learned to the main museum text. Each instrument and story earned its place on display with the backing of an immense research and conservation effort by the museum’s staff.
The aim of the museum – which is free to visit – is to appeal to music enthusiasts, and to be a resource for the RCM and wider music community. Many of the instruments are in playing condition, so you can hear some of them on a complimentary audioguide, or you might catch a live performance. The education and outreach work of the college is underscored by the hands-on room upstairs filled with instruments to try. There’s also a temporary exhibition space. And it’s all free – get a ticket here https://www.rcm.ac.uk/museum/