The Keyboard in London

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We (Mike Lurie, Greg Dunbar, Lauren Buono, Shawn Riley & Bryn Coveney) are a group of students studying abroad in London for the semester from Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. This blog is to document our class experiences in "The Keyboard and it's Role in London Society" course, which is being taught by Diane Birr at the Ithaca College London Center, in South Kensington. Our studies focus on keyboard instruments (the Virginal, Harpsichord, Pianoforte, Piano, Organ, Electronic keyboard) and explore how these instruments are historically interwoven with the personal and social fabric of London society.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Queen Elizabeth's Virginal

"Queen Elizabeth's Virginal" is a fascinating instrument that is found in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Queen Elizabeth I was born in Greenwich on September 1533 and died in London on March 24, 1603.  She reigned as Queen from 1550-1603 and was known as the English patron of music.  The English people knew her as a musician, playing the Polyphant (like a lute but strung with wire), as well as the virginal.  It is said that music was heard at the beginning and end of Elizabeth's life. The 'Te Deum' was supposedly sung at her birth and Jacques Bonnet is his "Histoire de la musique et de son effet" (1715) cited the memoirs of the Abbe Victorio Siri (1677 - 9) to the effect that when Queen Elizabeth was dying she called for her musicians to play around her bed 'so that, she said, she might die as gaily as she had lived, and that the horrors of death might be as gaily as she had lived, and that the horrors of death might be lessened; she heard the music tranquilly until her last breath.'

Of the many instruments that the Queen is said to have owned, only the spinet in the Victoria and Albert Museum is to have a strong link to her.  The instrument was made by Giovanni Antonio and is a perfect example of 16th century Venetian craftsmanship.  It is believed to be decorated by an unknown artist due to its spectacular embellishments that could not be done by just an instrument maker.  With its ornamentation in red and blue glazes on gold, the elaborate laminated wood and parchment rosette set into the soundboard, the keys inlayed with various woods, ivory or bone and metal, as well as key fronts decorated with embossed and gilded paper, it is undeniably a work of art.

Information provided by Shawn

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