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A secret treasure trove of incredible musical artefacts opens to the public

Beneath the Royal Northern College of Music is a fascinating museum full of weird and wonderful musical artefacts

If you thought that, tucked away in the basement of The Royal Northern College of Music, you might expect to find some dusty old manuscripts, some tapes, and even a few mini disks (remember them?), you’d be wrong.

Because what they do have is an incredible hidden museum stashed with hundreds of rare and unusual musical instruments and artefacts, some of which date from as far back as the 15th Century.

The collection includes a Stradivari violin, African gunibri, and even a fragment of Beethoven’s shroud.

This month,  as part of National Lottery Open Week, the RNCM Collection of Historic Musical Instruments is inviting visitors in to see these extraordinary artefacts.  And, best of all, all it will cost you is the price of a lottery ticket.

What’s in The Royal Northern College of Music collection?

A beautiful Swiss music box

There are hundreds of instruments from all over the world, from African gunibris and Japanese drums to Indian sitars, Chinese fiddles and French pochettes (pocket fiddles). There’s even a Tibetan human bone trumpet.

Other curiosities on display include a memento mori pendant containing a lock of Mendelssohn’s gold threaded hair, a reputed fragment of Beethoven’s shroud, a miniature violin made in Manchester in 1901 to perfect scale (including spare bow strings), an ornate Swiss music box with hummingbird and butterfly bell hammers, a Buccin bass trombone with a Tim Burton-esque dragonhead, and a cast of the left hand of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin.

The oldest item in the collection is a 15th century virginal, a great-grandfather to the piano, and among the most valuable items is a Stradivari violin piccolo from 1685 which first came to Manchester in 1883, one of an estimated 650 surviving pieces made by the great Antonio Stradivari.

Truly an astounding collection.

The Royal Northern College of Music

The bone flute

Stroh Violin

An international musical journey

Archive and Museum Manager Heather Roberts says the museum is an international musical journey through the best of the Italian Renaissance and English Victorian periods and more, without having to leave Manchester.

“The instruments and memorabilia we have hidden underneath the college are astounding,” says Heather.

“I am so excited to share these special stories with National Lottery players. I can’t wait to share how much beautiful music making is in Manchester’s heritage.”

The Royal Northern College of Music
Buccin trombone

Groups of up to four people with proof of purchase of a National Lottery game can visit the museum free of charge on Monday 11 March and Wednesday 13 March from 1.30-4.30pm (date of lottery draw or ticket purchase is not relevant).

Visitors during National Lottery Open Week will also receive a free notebook and be treated to a special soundtrack of historic performances by RNCM alumni, which have recently been digitised as part of a £206,000 conservation project.

The recordings date back to 1973, when the College first opened, and were originally captured on reel-to-reel tapes.

Earlier this year, the RNCM launched its Throwing Open the Concert Doors archive initiative to conserve the tapes in a modern digital format, with the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Small but spectacular museums

The RNCM Collection of Historic Musical Instruments is one of 13 special sites around Manchester and Salford that form the Hidden Network, small but spectacular museums, libraries, and historic buildings housing rare collections, displays, exhibitions, and events.

The museum is open from 12-1pm on Mondays and Thursdays ahead of the RNCM’s Lunchtimes concerts (term time only), when admission to the collection is free (no concert ticket purchase required).

The Lunchtime series of concerts feature student performances in the conservatoire’s dramatic Concert Hall. Tickets start at £2.50 including booking fee and are available via the website here

Private viewings of the The Royal Northern College of Music are also available by arrangement on request.

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