The piano was ordered by Queen Victoria from the firm of Érard, the London firm of Érard, in 1856. It’s clear that it was not the first piano that she’d had from that house and it’s certainly the most grand and elaborate that she ever ordered. Victoria and Albert’s lives and their life together was absolutely full of music. They were talented players of music. Prince Albert was an organist and a composer and a singer and Queen Victoria a very talented soprano. They also both played the piano and that’s where they would make music together. And they wouldn’t just make piano music, they would sit down and work their way through the great European symphonic repertoire and operatic repertoire together and that’s how they would amuse themselves at home. And one reads in diaries, when they were moving from one residence to another, almost the most important thing was to remember to take exactly the right sheet music they would need. It’s a revolutionary instrument in terms of piano design. People don’t really know the name Sébastien Érard anymore but in fact, he was really the father of the modern piano and his designs were so revolutionary they changed the whole course of piano making. One of the major differences is something called the repetition lever. This great innovation by Érard known as the double escapement action is what allowed for this rapid repetition of notes. Previously, instruments just couldn’t repeat a note as quickly because the pianist had to wait for the key to rise to its full rest position before they could play the note again. Now, with the double escapement lever, you could repeat a note almost instantaneously. You see here I can repeat a note when the key has hardly risen back up to its position. This innovation led the way for the great virtuoso pianist of the 19th century. Suddenly they could repeat notes so much more quickly. And the sound of this kind of piano is completely different from today’s big modern concert Steinway. The major difference is that of course it’s quieter but also the balance between the bass and the treble of this instrument is very different. It’s a different character and it’s very much a contrast whereas the sound of a modern piano is much more homogenous. My brief was first of all to get the piano in decent playing condition again. There was a pretty major structural work that had to be done. The tuning plank was split and it had to be dealt with in a special way because obviously given the complexity and beauty of this casework it couldn’t be taken apart in the normal way. So it was more like keyhole surgery in fact. There’s an intriguing aspect to this piano. In 1839 in her journal, Queen Victoria wrote that she’d sat down in her drawing room with Lord Melborne and he had admired her new piano. Particularly, he liked the monkeys on it. Now that was in 1839, long before this piano existed. But it seems to accord with an account we have much later in 1856, for removing the decorations of the earlier piano and placing them on the new one. So Queen Victoria so liked this strangely old fashioned, 18th century French style which is known as ‘singerie’ with monkeys all over it engaged in musical pursuits that she actually asked for the decorations of the earlier piano to be laboriously transferred to the new one. On the lid there’s a brass molding that goes right the way round and it encloses the outline of an earlier piano lid, a slightly smaller one. Because pianos got bigger and wider as time went on. Now when we actually removed this molding some years ago to see if we could find out how it was done, I must say it was extraordinarily difficult to see the join! These people were exceptionally good at what they did. The piano was going into an exhibition here at the Queen’s Gallery and it had been in the White Drawing Room for many years, most of its life, and over that time through coal fires and soot, it had taken on quite a lot of surface dirt which was a bit beyond a surface clean. There’s always complex challenges with any project that comes into the workshop but with the piano the aim was to really bring it back to life without too much intervention. That’s the case with all our projects really but it is done case by case. But with the piano, with the surface dirt, I knew and was confident that by removing the surface dirt it would then tie in and match very nicely with the rest of the sides of the piano that hadn’t been effected by surface dirt basically. Each part is treated individually as an individual project and it’s not just the cleaning, it’s the retouching, the filling, the sanding back, the regilding of new pieces, the final polish as well. There was also an area in the middle of the piano which had seen some damage. That required putting in some new polish, so the final polish had to tie in all together. So all these processes take quite a long time and putting it all back together also takes time. The whole process took about 12 months. Close up the piano looks gold and gleaming but really it still maintains its original layers, it maintains its original authenticity. It just really required the cleaning and the attention to bring it back to life. Well there’s absolutely no doubt that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would have both played this instrument and probably in this very room and probably together. Of course, there were only 5 years left for Prince Albert at the time it was commissioned. And although I have no doubt they would have played the work of Mendelssohn on the piano it must be pointed out that he couldn’t have played it, he having died much earlier in 1847. But the wonderful thing about his many visits to Buckingham Palace, which were so very informal and frequent in the 1840s, is that on one occasion as a sort of thank you he wrote them a specially arranged four-handed version of one of his famous ‘Songs Without Words’, the manuscript of which still remains in the Royal Collection and I would love to think that they played it together on this beautiful piano.