Royal Academy of Music Museum

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Violas, virginals and virtuosi

Royal Academy of Music Museum, Marylebone Road, NW1

A big display case for a small Stradivarius: the Viotti ex-Bruce
A big display case for a small violin: the Viotti Stradivarius

The country’s oldest conser­vatoire, the Royal Academy of Music admitted its first students in 1823. Coincidentally, this was the year in which John Nash built No.1 York Gate, which has been home to the academy’s museum since it opened in 2001 with the assistance of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

This is a small museum with a compact collection on display, so you can whizz round in half an hour if time is tight. There’s usually a temporary exhib­ition on the ground floor, which also has a bookshop and a showcase chron­icling the history of the Royal Academy of Music.

Upstairs, the strings gallery has precious violins, violas and cellos by world-famous makers, as well as a Renaissance lute, Baroque guitar, double bass, tiny piccolo violin and rare archive material about musicians and makers. The first violin (so to speak) is the Stradivari Viotti ex-Bruce, which was made in 1709 and was once played by Marie Antoinette. Its most celeb­rated owner was Giovanni Battista Viotti. According to the Art Fund – which helped the academy acquire the instrument – it is considered to be one of the four greatest Stradivari violins in existence.

On the second floor, the piano gallery has an array of instru­ments from the early 17th century to the 19th century – illus­trating the evolution of the piano­forte – and there are harpsi­chords too. On request, gallery assistants (who are usually academy students) may be able to demon­strate an instrument for you, and one of the pianos can be played by members of the public.

A distinctive feature of the museum is the glass-walled studio workshop in each of the upper-floor galleries, where luthiers and techni­cians can sometimes be observed making repairs and adjust­ments to instru­ments in the academy’s collection.

The museum hosts frequent events and activ­ities, including lecture–recitals, seminars and workshops. Hour-long guided tours can be booked for groups. There’s no café in the museum but on weekdays during term-time visitors can use the restaurant in the academy’s neigh­bouring main building.

Royal Academy of Music Museum, 1 York Gate, London NW1 5HT
Phone: 020 7873 7443
Email: museumandcollections@​ram.​ac.​uk
Website: Royal Academy of Music Museum
Open: Monday–Friday 11.30am–5.30pm, Saturday noon–4pm, closed Sundays and public holidays
Admission free
Nearest stations: Regent’s Park (Bakerloo line) and Baker Street (Bakerloo, Circle, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee and Metroplitan lines)