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Jessica Duchen
Thursday 4th February 2010
V&A Musical Instrument Collection to Close

There's been a groundswell of outrage against the planned closure of the Victoria & Albert Museum's world-famous musical instrument collection, especially as the gallery is to be refurbished to display fashion instead. Sign of the times, say most. Here's the Guardian's editorial take on it, today.

The Grauniad makes a lot of sense, and it does indeed seem sad that the public will be denied the chance to see some of the most beautiful instruments ever created. But I have one little caveat to add. There is no sight in a museum that breaks my heart more than that of a Stradivarius violin hanging up behind glass, unplayed. Violins should be heard, not seen. When there are violinists out there on the world's leading stages who would give their right arm for the loan of a 1699 Strad (if the giving of the arm wouldn't render them unable to play), they shouldn't be sitting in bank vaults or museums where nobody can put them to the use for which they were made.

Specialist musical instrument collections such as Finchcocks in Kent offer public concerts on their instruments. There's also a museum in Brentford devoted to mechanical instruments. And over in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford there lurks one of the world's most famous Strads, known as the 'Messiah' - yet as author Toby Faber points out, it has hardly ever been used and its history includes no famous performances

To me, this seems pretty scandalous. In November this year you can hear Nikolaj Znaider playing the Elgar Violin Concerto on the same violin on which its premiere was given by Fritz Kreisler 100 years ago (he's doing a massive tour, but will hit the Barbican on 10 November). That's what the great violins ought to be doing.

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February 23rd, 2010
8:02 AM
I went to the final day (last Sunday). Pictures here, including the Strad. There were a lot of angry people there.

February 6th, 2010
1:02 PM
My view is that the instruments should be in a location where they can be expertly preserved - for their longevity, historical and cultural interest; observed - for their beauty of design and craftsmanship; and deomonstrated by being played and heard both in a museum and on loan in the concert hall or elsewhere. The ideal would be for these instruments to be kept together and relocated to a space where all dimensions of their artistry could be displayed - both visual and aural. Unfortunately the plans for them seem to go no further than being confined to a vault.

February 5th, 2010
10:02 AM
My feeling exactly, Jessica: why can't they find a decent home for the instruments where they can be properly curated and played at regular intervals? Obviously a few are too delicate, but only a few. Personally, I can't get that much pleasure out of just looking at beautifully crafted instruments. Is it heresy to say I'd rather look at Fortuny frocks?

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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