The Spencer Collection

Tuesday, 03.01.2017 - Saturday, 31.03.2018, Museum Ground Floor

The Spencer Collection: A Musical Banquet

3 January 2017 – 31 March 2018

Half a millennium of instruments, manuscripts and music!

Robert Spencer (1932–1997) was a talented guitarist, lutenist, scholar and teacher, who spread music, warmth and enthusiasm in his wake. He also drew together an extraordinary collection of instruments, manuscripts, printed music and curiosities dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries, which are on show in this new exhibition.

‘The Spencer Collection: A Musical Banquet’ celebrates his important part in the early music revival and his wondrous collection of artefacts held at the Royal Academy of Music Museum. The Spencer Collection is a feast for the senses, particularly rich in the development of plucked string instruments and the early guitar. See a lute from 1585 that may have provided entertainment at a Tudor banquet, and a Panormo guitar from 1848 that was perhaps the favourite instrument of an accomplished young lady. Pique your curiosity with guitar songs printed on playing cards, and with one of only two surviving examples of the handwriting of the great English Renaissance musician John Dowland (1563–1626).

A specially commissioned short film can be viewed in the exhibition. This features archival footage alongside new interviews with friends, collaborators and protégés of Spencer. Our events series runs alongside the exhibition, delving further into some of the themes uncovered in the collection – including music in the theatre and historical medicine. 

Children’s activities and exhibition trails will also be available.

This is the latest temporary exhibition in the Royal Academy of Music’s acclaimed free Museum, where you can explore unique instruments, manuscripts and art, and discover behind-the-scenes stories from the United Kingdom’s oldest conservatoire. Star items include the ‘Viotti ex-Bruce’ 1709 violin by Antonio Stradivari once played to Queen Marie Antoinette, Gilbert and Sullivan’s original score for ‘The Mikado’, and a Viennese piano from 1815 with six pedals. Visitors can also learn about the role the Academy and its alumni have played in musical development for nearly 200 years, and perhaps hear a live gallery demonstration of an 18th century harpsichord.