10 June 2019
Discover the history of this stunning grand piano once owned by Queen Victoria
For many people, the Queen’s annual Royal Christmas Message is an event of importance and tradition, and cannot be missed. Every year, families and friends huddle around the television, stuffed full from their Christmas lunch, and listen to the words of someone whose life has been full of extraordinary experiences and witnessed world-changing events.
You may have noticed in recent Christmas speeches a golden piano tucked neatly in the corner of the screen.
Queen Elizabeth II with her 1856 piano during her 2018 Christmas Day Speech
This piano has caught the keen eye of many. Where did it come from? How expensive is it? Who played it?
Whilst the piano is now officially owned by Queen Elizabeth II, it was actually originally built for Queen Victoria, who was a keen musician along with her husband, Prince. 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.
In 1856, the company S & P Erard built a new piano for the music-loving royals. 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.
Now that we know the piano’s story, let us answer the burning questions and dispel the common myth behind this piano.
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.
Has Queen Elizabeth II ever played it?
There is no doubt that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert played this piano. But has Queen Elizabeth II? No conclusive evidence exists... yet!
The 'Iraq Connection'
After the 2018 Royal Christmas Message, a myth circulated that the piano was previously the property of Saddam Hussein and that it was looted during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. This is a complete myth however; the piano has always been the property of the British Royal Family.
This gorgeous, and indeed revolutionary piano, is a spectacular instrument with a unique story. It’s certainly one of a kind!
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