What instruments did Queen Victoria play and own?

What instruments did Queen Victoria play and own?

Sit back and explore the countless instruments that belonged to Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert

Queen Victoria’s Musical InstrumentsErard Piano

Buckingham Palace, London

© Royal Collection Trust

It may have been described as “a stunning gem” by none other than Proms director David Pickard, but Queen Victoria’s Erard piano has spent many years sitting demurely in Buckingham Palace’s White Drawing Room. Lemon-colored sofas are clustered in front of the fireplace, with the piano to one side. It is no great pleasure imagining Victoria, Albert and all the musical guests performing after dinner.

“Victoria’s diary shows that she played the piano almost every day since she was young,” says Sally Goodsir, Deputy Curator of Decorative Arts at the Royal Collection Trust. “Her musical relationship with Albert was on an equal footing. He was an accomplished pianist and singer and encouraged Victoria to play, if only for her own satisfaction or for family and friends.’

The established piano manufacturer Erard counted Liszt and Mendelssohn among his followers. The delivery of Victoria’s Election of 1856 was widely reported. The Morning Post noted the “delicately executed floral and arabesque setting” enveloping the symbols for music and dance, painted on “the solid gold foundation.” [sic]High gloss lacquered and polished.’

That wasn’t Victoria’s first erard, Goodsir says. “You could call it an upgrade. The 1856 instrument has a rather soft tone, which Albert’s temperament may have pleased.’

Lincoln organ

Buckingham Palace, London

© Royal Collection Trust

The path through the palace takes you past the East Gallery’s collection of priceless paintings to the elegantly appointed ballroom. The gallery is overlooked by the substantial early 19th century organ by Henry Cephas Lincoln. It is still played at official events.

The organ was put into service in Brighton’s Royal Pavilion. When Victoria and Albert decided to expand Buckingham Palace to accommodate their ever-growing family, the government agreed on condition that the pavilion be sold. “Victoria and Albert knew the organ well and kept it after the sale,” explains Goodsir. “They were both organists – Victoria had an instrument in her private rooms. She pumped the bellows when Albert played.’

More like that

Before a “lavish orchestra,” the now-adapted organ graced the glittering state concert at the opening of the “Ball and Concert Hall” in July 1856. Disappointingly, says Goodsir, “we have no idea if the royal couple ever sneaked into the room to to play the organ privately!’

Basse de violon (unknown maker)

Royal Collection Trust

Although not currently on display, this musical treasure (a cousin of the double bass) is as impressive as any in the Royal Collection. Owned by the first great double-bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti, on his death in 1846 it was bequeathed to Prince Albert, who heard him play the previous year – one of several encounters the couple had.

The amazing Dragonetti first made waves in his native Venice, but had settled in London by the mid-1790s. He triumphantly proved that the double bass can be much more than a workhorse. Before him, the instrument seemed “to wage an eternal war with melody,” said one observer, but Dragonetti was able to convey “the charm of soft harmonic tones.”

His compositions for double bass were recorded by Leon Bosch, who says: “They demonstrate his technique, which sets extraordinary new standards. Works like the famous E minor solo, which he certainly played for Albert, show that his playing also had elegance.’

Alexandre et Fils harmonium

Osborne House, Isle of Wight

Take the Lymington-Yarmouth Ferry to West Wight and travel through the fascinating countryside to Osborne House in East Cowes – a favorite residence of Victoria and Albert. It contains several of her instruments, including this Paris-made harmonium in the Prince Consort’s dressing/writing room overlooking the Solent. It cannot be 100% verified that it is the Prince Consort’s 1844 Osborne House harmonium as mentioned in Victoria’s journals, but it seems very likely.

This instrument, with its attractive rosewood case, is a reminder of the enormous popularity of the harmonium in the 19th century, from countless cheaper examples in chapels and churches to imposing concert hall models. Serious composers such as Rossini and Berlioz wrote for the harmonium, delighting in the orchestral palette available in the finest examples. Albert’s harmonium is of more modest skill but undoubtedly served its master well.

Main image: Queen Victoria watches Prince Albert playing the organ for Felix Mendelssohn. ©Getty Images

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