Out of the Shadows

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

The world's oldest guitar and earliest keyboard instrument with strings: the new Royal College of Music Museum opens this week

Royal College of Music Museum (Photo Phil Rowley)
Royal College of Music Museum (Photo Phil Rowley)
 The Royal College of Music has around 15,000 items in its historic collection, though I suspect that few of us ever got around to going to the old museum in the college's South Kensington headquarters. But as part of the college's current £40 million four-year campus transformation project a brand new museum has been built. 

The new museum opened this week (5 October 2021) and offers visitors the chance to interact with 500 years of musical history. Items on permanent display include the world's oldest guitar and earliest keyboard instrument with strings, along with 56 other instruments from the collection. 

As well as musical instruments, the museum tells its story through art, including an iconic portrait of Farinelli and a remarkable Tischbein featuring an instrument from the collection displayed alongside. A series of portraits by German artist Milein Cosman (1921-2017) will be on display to the public for the first time in the Lavery Gallery, featuring intimate sketches of college alumni Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Imogen Holst and Amaryllis Fleming, alongside many other composers and musicians.

The new museum building features a double-height atrium which includes a hanging artwork installation by Scottish artist Victoria Morton which takes its inspiration from the permanent exhibition, having been specially commissioned and created for the space.

Originally due to open in spring 2021, the new museum was built from scratch as part of the campus transformation project. Since 2017, the college’s Grade II listed South Kensington home has nearly doubled in capacity, designed by architect John Simpson. The new Royal College of Music Museum brings public access to the heart of the historic institution, alongside a new public café and two new performance spaces. 

Full details from the Royal College of Music website.

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