History & Culture

A piano with a history

Victoria Memorial admire Queen Victoria's personal piano on Thursday. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish  

The authorities at Victoria Memorial Hall unveiled a nearly 200-year-old piano that was used by Queen Victoria herself, on the occasion of World Music Day on Thursday.

The instrument had been locked up for nearly two decades, ever since the Royal Gallery at the museum was closed for renovation.

The grand pianoforte was ordered for the 10-year-old Victoria by her uncle, King William IV, in 1829. It is the instrument on which she learnt how to play from her teacher Mrs. Lucy Anderson, according to records at the memorial hall.

During the unveiling at the Queen’s Hall, compositions by J.S. Bach, Frederic Chopin and Franz Schubert were played in a short concert by students of the noted pianist Jyotishka Dasgupta, albeit on a piano far more modern.

Made of rosewood with an ivory keyboard, Queen Victoria’s piano has an ornamental wooden harp on its base. “Our research suggests that the piano was probably kept in Windsor Castle before it was brought here,” said Piyasi Bharasa, Education Officer of Victoria Memorial Hall.

A certificate from the French manufacturers of the instrument, S & P Erard, that confirms that the piano (N. 69) was made by them in 1829 “for the use of Her Late Majesty Queen Victoria, when a girl” is also on display.

Although museum authorities have not been able to dig out any information on Queen Victoria’s abilities as a pianist, it is well known that she was very fond of music. She often accompanied her husband Prince Albert, who was a talented organist, Ms. Bharasa said.

The piano, along with the writing desk and chair used by her for her daily correspondence at Windsor Castle, were presented to Victoria Memorial by her son King Edward VII. These personal effects occupied the centre of the Royal Gallery.

The famed “Jaipur painting” that depicts the entry of King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) into Jaipur in 1876, believed to be the largest oil painting in India and the third largest in the World, and Queen Victoria’s last letter to India dated December 14, 1900, are among the exhibits lying in the Royal Gallery that is still closed for renovation.

“At the time of the tercentennial celebration of the city [in 1990], several artefacts were moved around to make space in the museum’s galleries and many treasures lie locked up today. Some, like this piano, have been restored and brought back into public display, but there is an urgent need for modernisation of the museum,” said Professor Swapan Chakravorty, Secretary and Curator.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 9:13:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/a-piano-with-a-history/article3555664.ece

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