Music at Home

January 15 2016 to June 18 2017
Special Collections

For the first time, the Rijksmuseum is presenting an overview of musical instruments for performances in the home. Virginal, theorbo, clavichord, violin, harpsichord, harp, flute, pianos, mandolin and a chamber organ can all be seen until 18 June 2017 at the 'Music at Home' exhibition.

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This small exhibition displays a selection of musical highlights from instrument collections of the Rijksmuseum and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (municipal museum in The Hague), the two most important collections of their kind in the Netherlands. In the area around the showcase in which the instruments are displayed, visitors will hear recordings of pieces performed by Early Music students from the conservatories in Amsterdam and The Hague.

Trio sonatas and string quartets

For centuries, playing a musical instrument was a favourite way of entertaining family and friends, or just for personal pleasure. Music at home was more intimate than music played in public venues such as churches, opera houses and theatres. The repertoire consisted of music for soloists or for a singer with accompaniment, as well as music for small ensembles such as duets, trio sonatas and string quartets. The exhibition displays several examples of these, in small ensembles.

Marie Antoinette's favourite instrument

The French queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) loved to play the harp, which made this instrument one of the most popular for women from the nobility and upper classes. The exhibition shows a Parisian harp from around 1780 made by Georges Cousineau, Marie Antoinette's harp teacher. A special, smaller version of the harpsichord was played at home mainly by young girls, and was therefore given the name 'virginal'. The House Music exhibition has a particularly fine specimen crafted by the famous 17th century harpsichord maker, Johannes Ruckers of Antwerp.

Piano & pianola

The piano became the status symbol of the 19th century. Its presence in the home was a visible sign of the owner's status, as was true for the spectacular 1901 Steinway, made of maple, spruce, mother of pearl, metal and ivory. The pyramid piano was meant for smaller homes, as it was upright. The pyramid piano on display comes from Vienna and was made for a wealthy Hungarian businessman around 1829 by the famous Conrad Graf, piano maker to the Austrian court. And for those with absolutely no musical talent, there was always the pianola. This mechanism was mounted on top of the piano keyboard. Mechanical 'fingers', controlled by the music roll in the middle, played the piano. The mechanism was powered by an electric motor (supplied by the firm of Welte & Söhne, Freiburg, 1908).

Music at Home, musical instruments from the 17th through 20th centuries. Display case in Special Collections, through 18 June 2017. Rijksmuseum's musical instruments curator, Giovanni Paolo Di Stefano, is funded by the Kramer Lems Foundation/Rijksmuseum Fund.

The instruments on loan are from the Royal Antiquarian Society, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands), Pianola Museum in Amsterdam and the Ehrenfeld Foundation in Bussum. The exhibition was designed by Roland Buschmann and Jeroen Bijl.