Hidden Treasures of the RCM Collections

Guitars and a harp on display as part of the Museum's Hidden Treasures exhibition
Discover unique treasures from the RCM Museum and Library collections. Featuring long unseen artworks, historic manuscripts, and unusual and ingenious musical instruments, this exhibition shares rarely seen objects and stories hand-picked from the thousands of objects and stories from the RCM's internationally outstanding collections.

Highlights include probably the earliest known portrait of Franz Liszt, personal items from the collection of RCM alumnus Samuel Coleridge Taylor and Edward Elgar’s trombone. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams's birth, you will also be able to see Jacob Epstein’s famous bust of the composer.

This exhibition will run from 23 January - 18 December 2022

Cartoon of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

In the early 20th century, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was considered one of the RCM’s most successful students. As well as being a prolific composer, he was a high-profile figure in the civil rights movement both in Britain and the US. The exhibited items from his personal collection demonstrate his fame at home and beyond.

Bust of Ralph Vaughan Williams

This bust is a highly representative example of Jacob Epstein’s expressionistic, often distorted figures. Asked to recount his first impression of Vaughan Williams, the artist replied: ‘He reminded me in appearance of some eighteenth-century admiral whose word was law.’

Edward Elgar's trombone

This trombone was owned by the composer Sir Edward Elgar, whose proficiency on the instrument was a source of amusement for his friends. Dora Penny (immortalised as Dorabella in the Enigma Variations) recalled: ‘...he often played a note higher or lower than the one he wanted ... and as he swore every time that happened I got into such a state of hysterics that I didn’t know what to do.'

Portrait of Franz Liszt

This is one of the earliest known portraits of Liszt, drawn when the composer was aged 16 and visiting London for the second time as a young concert pianist. The composer Charles Salaman, who hosted Liszt during the visit, recalled: 'a very charmingly natural and unaffected boy, and I have never forgotten his joyful exclamation, "Oh, gooseberry pie!" when his favourite dish was put upon the table.'

Taus (stringed instrument) from India

Sourindro Mohun Tagore (1840-1914) came from a wealthy Indian family distantly related to the famous poet Rabindranath Tagore, and he donated many Indian instruments to the RCM shortly after its establishment in 1884. Only a few of them survive today, but Tagore’s legacy survives through the success that Indian music enjoyed in British culture throughout the 20th century.

Opening times

  • Tuesday–Friday: 10.15am-5.45pm
  • Saturday–Sunday: 11am-6pm
  • Last entry will be 30 minutes before closing time.
  • Closed on Mondays
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