14 September 2022
By Ellie Palmer
Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II's death on 8 September has been met with collective grief from millions around the world
The 96-year-old monarch, the longest-reigning British monarch in history, was known to have a huge interest in classical music (she was a patron of London's Royal Albert Hall). One such piano that she used to practise on in her earlier years is the stunning S & P Erard golden grand piano. It's made a fair few appearances in pictures of the Queen over the years. Let's take a closer look at it.
For many people, the Queen’s annual Royal Christmas Message was an event of importance and tradition. Every year, families and friends have huddled around the television, stuffed full from their Christmas lunch, and listened to the words of someone whose life was full of extraordinary experiences.
Back in 2018, you may have noticed an eye-catching golden piano tucked neatly in the corner of the screen.
Queen Elizabeth II with her 1856 piano during her 2018 Christmas Day Speech
Where did it come from? Who played it?
The piano has been around for over 150 years. It was originally built for Queen Victoria, who was a keen musician along with her husband, Prince Albert. Both played the piano, Queen Victoria sang and Prince Albert played the organ too. Music was central to their lives; they regularly played arrangements of overtures and symphonies.
Composer Felix Mendelssohn was a guest in Buckingham Palace on numerous occasions, even arranging a four-handed version of some of his famous Song Without Words, a collection of short lyrical piano pieces, for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Mendelssohn was Queen Victoria’s favourite composer.
The piano was built in 1856 by the company S & P Erard. Having previously been a supplier to the French nobility in the 18th century (including commissions for former Queen of France Marie-Antoinette), the firm was at the cutting edge of piano design and their pianos were played by many of the greatest pianists e.g. Liszt and Mendelssohn. The piano for Queen Victoria incorporated a recent invention by the piano manufacture’s founder, Sébastien Erard, called the double escapement action. This allowed rapid repetition of a single key, a feature which paved the way for more virtuosic performances by solo performers.
In addition to revolutionary technology, the new piano was a vessel for tradition; the gilded case is taken from an earlier piano owned by Queen Victoria. The casing, which features motifs of cherubs and monkeys playing musical instruments, was enlarged and cased the new piano.
A new era
Queen Elizabeth playing a different piano in Buckingham Palace, 1946. ©Getty
Both Queen Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, were avid players when they were younger – Margaret more so. The pair were taught how to play by the Queen Mother. During the wartime period, they were placed under the tutelage of St George’s Chapel’s resident organist.
The late Queen eventually turned her attention to other interests such as the outdoors, her dogs and horseracing.
Her son, King Charles III, has been President of the Royal College of Music for almost four decades, and an advocate for classical music.
How much is it worth?
Pianos from S & P Erard that date from a similar period have been sold for £138,000. But with such an intensely beautiful design and historical significance, the piano could easily sell for much, much more.
This gorgeous, and indeed revolutionary piano, is a spectacular instrument with a unique story. It’s certainly one of a kind.
A whole range of close-up images of the piano can be found here.
Watch pianist Stephen Hough play the golden piano live at the 2019 BBC Proms at London's Royal Albert Hall below.
Main image: Queen Elizabeth II’s 1854 grand piano, made for Queen Victoria by Erard of London, at Buckingham Palace in London. © PA