By Francesca Fenn, Jun 20 2019 12:02PM
For our 6th Little Museum in London we’re going to the Euston Road, just a little East from Madame Tussaud’s, to the Royal Academy of Music. Within this venerable institution, which for many years has been a cradle of learning for some of the world’s finest musicians, lies their small museum, stacked over three floors, with each storey having its own theme. Let’s start on the first floor.
Here we are, in the Strings Gallery, where there are beautiful and rare stringed instruments with just the right amount of information for each. Sometimes there are spaces, as I’m delighted to say that these instruments are lent out for special concerts, so they are still played and loved. There are violins by Stradivari and Amati, and there is a guitar from 1780 that looks rather like a lute. There are exquisite scale models of instruments, and ukuleles you can have a play on, complete with music if needed or wanted. The College’s string workshop is within the gallery, and has a glass wall. It is very special to be able to watch the luthiers at work, making and repairing stringed instruments.
Up on the second floor is the piano gallery. The story of the keyboard begins here with a virginal from 1620, and there are a number of wonderful instruments tracing the development of the piano over the next 300 years. Some instruments have a bewildering array of pedals and arrangements to get desired effects. My favourite, present on two of the pianos, was a series of louvre slats, which open when the appropriate pedal is depressed, letting out much more sound. One of the best things about this gallery is that there is a skilled attendant there, who will demonstrate the instruments for you if you ask – which we did – it was brilliant!
There are also exhibits showing how the mechanism of a piano works, and how pianos are built to be both beautiful and be strong. Did you know that a grand piano has to withstand nine tonnes of tension from the strings? I had no idea!
Back down on the ground floor are cases with artefacts and souvenirs from the inception of the Academy in 1822 to its work today. There’s a glorious tin box for a top hat, and letters and scores from a number of illustrious composers and performers, plus a case about all female orchestras from the early 20th century, when women were not permitted to play in professional orchestras. No matter how high their standard, they were seen only as ‘novelty acts’. Hrmph!
This lovely little museum is free, and open Mon – Fri 11.30am – 5.30pm, Sat: Noon – 4.0pm
Nearest tube: Baker Street or Regent’s Park.