RCM Museum of Music



Prince Consort Road, SW7 2BS


020-7591 4314



Opening times:

Tue-Fri 11:30-14:30

How to get there:

Tube: South Kensington

Entry fee:


Close to the Royal Albert Hall, in a building by Sir A.W. Blomfield in ‘French baronial’ style, the College owns a remarkable collection of musical instruments, comprising some 800 items dating from the end of the 15th century to the present day. Founded in 1883, with Sir George Grove as its first Director, the college received important collections from, among others, Rajah Sourindro Mohun Tagore (1884); the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII (1886); founder of the College Sir George Donaldson (1894), curator of the historic music rooms for the International Inventions Exhibition in the Royal Albert Hall in 1885; and A.J. Hipkins (1911), first honorary curator at the College.

The museum is housed in a purpose-built 1970s split-level room. In the far left-hand corner at ground level is a clavicytherium of c. 1480, the oldest known stringed keyboard instrument in the world. Probably made in Germany, it features an elaborately carved miniature Gothic rose window and was preserved in the Contarini and Correr collections near Venice until it was exhibited in London in 1885 and then acquired by Donaldson. A working copy, which can be seen—and occasionally heard—here, was commissioned by the College from Adlam-Burnett in 1973. One of the earliest harpsichords to survive can be seen nearby, dated 1531, by Alessandro Trasuntino of Venice, the inside of the outer case decorated with a voluptuous Venus and Cupid painted by the school of Paris Bordone, c. 1580. The remarkably well preserved polygonal virginals by Giovanni Celestini (1593), also the oldest surviving of its type, was decorated in Venice towards the end of the 16th century with miniature paintings of the contest between Apollo and Pan, Apollo pursuing Daphne, and Orpheus playing to the animals. Items with historical associations include a clavichord that was once owned by Haydn; a spinet supposed to have been given to Handel by his friend A.G. Leamon, from whose descendants it was acquired by Hipkins; and trombones that belonged to Elgar and Holst. Among the organs, rare examples are the German table regal of the late 17th century, the portable Bible regal from the early 18th century, designed to fold up like a book, and the chamber organ attributed to the important Restoration builder Bernard Smith, from around 1702. Displayed with several percussion instruments is an early 19th-century glass harmonica of the type invented by Benjamin Franklin. Both Mozart and Beethoven composed for glass harmonica, an instrument which is notoriously difficult to play. Among the wind instruments is an early 19th-century Northumbrian smallpipe and a rare Scottish stock-and-horn, of which only one other original survives. These last two both once belonged to the artist and caricaturist Charles Keene.

On the gallery level are the bowed and plucked stringed instruments, and the College’s ethnographic collection of Asian and African instruments. The bowed strings include the oldest-known baryton, from 1647, a very rare example of an instrument that was played like a viol and made some time before being brought into vogue by Haydn and Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. Among the plucked instruments is a very well-preserved lute-like instrument, a chitarrone from 1608, made by Magno Tieffenbrucker of Venice, and a late 16th-century cittern that once belonged to Rossini, and was used, according to a label discovered inside, as a model by Titian. Also particularly fine is the museum’s ten-strong collection of guitars. They include the earliest known guitar in the world, from 1581, complete with its original back, made by Belchior Diaz of Lisbon. The Asian and African instruments, composed largely from the collections donated by Tagore and King Edward VII, include a rare 17th-century Afro-Portuguese ivory horn; a Tibetan dragon horn; Indian stringed instruments, including a vina decorated with carved depictions of scenes from the life of Krishna; and an arched harp, shaped like a boat, from Burma, a type of instrument that appears in the very earliest Egyptian and Sumerian sources. Several of the museum’s most precious instruments can be heard in action on a computerised ‘virtual tour’.

The collection of portraits, selections from which are displayed in the museum, contains depictions of the greatest composers, instrumentalists, singers and conductors of all nations, although the emphasis is on British musicians or those who worked in Britain. Outstanding items include Houdon’s terracotta bust of Gluck; Burne-Jones’s portrait of Paderewski (1890) and Epstein’s bust of Vaughan Williams.

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Update from RCM Museum of Music

Exciting developments!

The Royal College of Music has exciting plans to redevelop its building in the heart of London's South Kensington! The More Music campaign includes new performance spaces, practice rooms, a café, and a brand new, fully accessible Museum at the heart of the RCM!

In order for this to happen, our museum closed on 11 December 2015 and will reopen in 2019. During this time, the collections will be moved to an offsite storage space and will no longer be accessible to the public in the way they are now.

What we will be doing
We will be busy carrying out extensive conservation on over 500 of our instruments, digitising a lot of our collection and making it available online. We will also be doing a number of outreach activities with schools and community groups, as well as curating temporary and pop-up exhibitions! We will welcome two new members of staff, a Conservator and a Research Assistant, and run an intense programme of training, volunteering and internships.

What this means for our visitors, and how you can be involved
Although we will not have a physical gallery for a while, we have been working hard to provide you with lots of ways to access our collections digitally, including through Google Cultural Institute. To find out more, please visit our website: http://www.rcm.ac.uk/museum/

Over the course of the next few years, the museum will be recruiting volunteers to help us carry out conservation, digitisation, outreach, learning and engagement. To receive information about our volunteering opportunities and updates on our progress please join our mailing list! Contact Erin McHugh (erin.mchugh@rcm.ac.uk) to subscribe.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.


National Maritime Museum
Wimbledon Windmill Museum
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
2 Willow Road (National Trust)
William Morris Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
Westminster Abbey Museum
Wesley's Chapel
Wellington Arch (English Heritage)
Wallace Collection
Victoria & Albert Museum
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)
Tate Modern
Tate Britain
Sutton House (National Trust)
Spencer House
Southside House
South London Art Gallery
The Courtauld Institute of Art (Somerset House)
Sir John Soane's Museum
Shakespeare’s Globe
Serpentine Gallery
Science Museum
St Bride’s Crypt Museum
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum
Saatchi Gallery
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Mews
Royal London Hospital Museum
The Faraday Museum
Royal Hospital Chelsea
RCM Museum of Music
Royal Academy of Music Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Red House (National Trust)
Ranger’s House (English Heritage)
Ragged School Museum
The Queen’s Gallery
Prince Henry’s Room
The Photographers’ Gallery
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Osterley Park (National Trust)
Orleans House Gallery
Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
Natural History Museum
National Portrait Gallery
National Gallery
National Army Museum
Musical Museum
World Rugby Museum
Museum of the Order of St John
Museum No. 1 (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Museum of London
Garden Museum
Museum in Docklands (Museum of London)
The Royal Observatory
The Queen's House
Old Royal Naval College
Marianne North Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Marble Hill House (English Heritage)
Mall Galleries
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
London Transport Museum
London Fire Brigade Museum
London Canal Museum
18 Stafford Terrace – The Sambourne Family Home
Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Leighton House
Kingston Museum
Kew Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
London Museum of Water & Steam
Kenwood House (English Heritage)
Kensington Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Keats House
Jewish Museum
Jewel Tower (English Heritage)
Jerwood Space
Imperial War Museum
ICA Institute of Contemporary Arts
Hunterian Museum
Horniman Museum
HMS Belfast (Imperial War Museum)
Hayward Gallery
Handel House Museum
Hampton Court Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Ham House (National Trust)
Guildhall Art Gallery
Guards Museum
Grant Museum of Zoology & Comparative Anatomy
Geffrye Museum of the Home
Fulham Palace
Freud Museum
Foundling Museum
Forty Hall & Estate
Florence Nightingale Museum
Firepower: The Royal Artillery Museum
Fenton House (National Trust)
Fashion and Textile Museum
Fan Museum
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art
Eltham Palace (English Heritage)
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dr Johnson’s House
Dennis Severs' House
Danson House
Cutty Sark
Contemporary Applied Arts
Chiswick House (English Heritage)
Chelsea Physic Garden
Chartered Insurance Institute Museum
Charles Dickens Museum
Carlyle’s House (National Trust)
Camden Arts Centre
Cabinet War Rooms & Churchill Museum (Imperial War Museum)
Burgh House - The Hampstead Museum
Buckingham Palace
Brunel Engine House
Brunei Gallery SOAS
British Optical Association Museum
The British Museum
The British Library
Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee
Black Cultural Archives
Museum of Childhood (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Bethlem Museum of the Mind
Benjamin Franklin House
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Barbican Art Gallery
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Bankside Gallery
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All Hallows Undercroft Museum
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