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
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)