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A group surrounds a harpsichord playing instruments

Many members of the royal family were talented musicians

Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and Prince Albert (1819–61)

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in costume for a Charles II-themed ball (RCIN 400822) ©

Music occupied a central place in the lives of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It was a shared passion and an art in which they met on equal terms. Their music-making was based around piano duet repertoires and wherever they travelled they would take quantities of sheet music with them. At every palace – at Balmoral, at Osborne and even on the royal yacht – there were pianos, the main focus of their music-making at home.

The queen later listed many of the pieces that she and the Prince played together on the piano: arrangements of operatic overtures including Beethoven’s Egmont, Prometheus, and Leonora (no. 1). Prince Albert also brought with him music by well-known composers, notably Haydn and Mozart. The queen had declared before her marriage: ‘I am afraid I am too modern to appreciate Mozart much’ (Journal, 18 April 1837), but she took note of what her singing teacher, Luigi Lablache, said of him – ‘C’est le Papa de tous’ – and grew to admire Don Giovanni in particular. It was also the prince who introduced the queen to the music of Mendelssohn. Together they would play parts of his oratorios – especially Elijah and St Paul – as well as his numerous works for piano and voice.

The prince was also active in the wider musical world as director of the Concerts of Ancient Music from 1840 to 1848, introducing earlier repertoire and some lesser-known works of Mozart to the annual seasons. The renowned double-bass player Domenico Dragonetti (1763–1846), who knew both Haydn and Beethoven and was famous throughout Europe, was a frequent performer while the prince was director. In his will, Dragonetti bequeathed his basse de violon to Prince Albert.

S & P Erard

Grand piano

Cambridge : Hills & Saunders

Buckingham Palace Ball Room

Ernst Friedrich August Rietschel (1804-61)

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

Cambridge : Hills & Saunders

Prince Consort's Organ Room

Prince Albert, Prince Consort, consort of Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom (1819-61)