06 October 2021
By Ellie Palmer
Items on permanent display include the world’s oldest guitar and earliest keyboard instrument with strings, along with 56 other fascinating instruments specially chosen from the Royal College of Music’s designated collection of over 15,000 items to bring musical history to life
The Royal College of Music Museum is now officially open after being kept under-wraps for over a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The museum, located in the Exhibition Road cultural area of South Kensington in London, has been built from scratch as part of the RCM’s £40 million four-year campus transformation project. Since 2017, the College’s iconic Grade II listed South Kensington home has nearly doubled in capacity, designed by celebrated architect John Simpson. Building work continued throughout the pandemic, including fit-out and instrument mounting under strict social distancing rules, but the Museum’s intended opening date of Spring 2021 had to be delayed. 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.
The museum is intended as an interactive experience, with regular performances by RCM musicians and the opportunity for visitors to create their own music in the Weston Discovery Centre. 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 celebrated German artist Milein Cosman will be on display to the public for the first time in the Lavery Gallery, featuring intimate sketches of RCM alumni Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Imogen Holst and Amaryllis Fleming, alongside many other composers and musicians.
There are three key areas – Music is Creation, Music is Craft and Music is Performance – each exploring phases of the creative process from the birth of a new idea, its realisation through craftsmanship, to performance. In the Museum’s beautiful double-height atrium space, a hanging artwork installation by Scottish artist Victoria Morton takes its inspiration from the permanent exhibition, having been specially commissioned and created for the space.
Professor Gabriele Rossi Rognoni, Curator of the Royal College of Music Museum and Professor of Material Culture and Music, comments: "The Royal College of Music Museum will be a wonderful addition to London’s cultural scene and I can’t wait to finally invite visitors to experience our quirky, living, breathing collection first-hand."
Main image: ©Phil Rowley