Category Archives: Uncategorized

Research visits to MIMEd

Although St Cecilia’s Hall is closed to the public, it does not mean that the objects are placed in storage and left until they are reinstalled. Collection business still goes on with teaching and with visits from scholars who are researching instruments in the collection. This semester sees postgraduate teaching for the MMus Musical Instrument Research programme, which will concentrate on Keyboard Organology. For this class the appropriate instruments are removed from the storage shelves and made available for students to examine in detail.
As a leading international collection, with many iconic instruments, we have requests from visiting scholars to carry out research. Such visits are always informative for collection staff as well as the visitor. There is discourse in which aspects of research are discussed and often various theories are passed backwards and forwards in an attempt to get a fuller understanding of the object.
Although we need to respond in a different manner to research requests when the objects are stored in a location away from the staff, it is still an important part of the Collection’s work to further the creation and dissemination of knowledge.
We recently had a visit from the Belgian harpsichord maker and researcher Ellen Denolf, who wished to examine the knee lever mechanism of our Goermans/Taskin harpsichord. Certainly one of the best known instruments in the collection, it was built by Jean Goermans in 1764, and altered in 1783/4 by Pascal Taskin – the most important maker in late-eighteenth century Paris.
Taskin made a number of changes to the instrument. He added an extra register of jacks which were used to pluck the string with soft leather, providing a contrast to the harder bird quill. He also strengthened the framing inside the case – something the visitor never normally sees – had the instrument redecorated with chinoiserie on the exterior and lid interior and added knee levers in place of handstops. Players could then use the knees to get different sounds while continuing to play. One knee lever even allowed a diminuendo effect by reducing the sound from all of the quill registers to just the soft leather (known as peau de buffle).
The images show Ellen and MIMEd Conservator Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet examining and discussing aspects of the knee lever mechanism at the instrument’s spine and the back of the keyboard.


It should be mentioned that Taskin perhaps didn’t do everything quite above board. Other work on the instrument included removing Goerman’s name from the soundboard, staining the whole soundboard and cutting the serif from the lead rose in the soundboard which normally displays the maker’s initials – in this case “IG”. By changing it to “IC” Taskin could perhaps pass the instrument off as being by Ioannes Couchet – a member of the famous Ruckers family whose instruments went for many times what a recent French example might sell for!

Musical Instruments on the Today programme

On Thursday, March 12, the collection of the distinguished keyboard player and conductor Christopher Hogwood was sold at auction. As part of the lead to this, Collection Curator Jenny Nex, along with harpsichordist Sophie Yates, appeared on the Radio 4 Today programme to discuss the collection and its sale. The segment can be heard at starting about 52 minutes in.

Musical Instrument Museums Edinburgh has benefitted greatly – particularly in the last decade – from private collectors who have made gifts or bequests to the Collection. In particular we have the Rodger Mirrey Collection of early keyboard instruments – a collection which complemented the existing keyboard collection and now has given Edinburgh instruments unsurpassed in scope; the Sir Nicholas Shackleton Collection of clarinets – the finest privately assembled collection of woodwinds, and the Frank Tomes Collection, predominantly of brass instruments.

As with all of our instruments, they are used in teaching from undergraduate to PhD level, and are made available to scholars for research and to allow makers to produce reproductions for practicing musicians. Nowadays reproductions of instruments from the University’s Collection are heard daily on national radio (Radio 3 and Classic FM), and the Museum gets regular visits from makers to carry out examinations of objects.

It was a particular wish of Christopher Hogwood that the funds raised by the sale of his instruments went to support students of music and educational charities he has long been associated with. It is obviously too soon to know where the instruments have gone, but early reports suggest that the sale was very successful with the objects selling for their estimate or higher.

One of the issues that was brought up is whether collections of this nature should be preserved together given the importance of the collector, or whether dispersal allows the creation of future collections.

Early English Cello

We are very excited to have a new loan join us – an early English cello.  Although it doesn’t have a label, it is probably by one of the highly skilled makers working in the vicinity of St Paul’s Cathedral in London during the seventeenth century.   Barak Norman is the current attribution, but we will be undertaking research based on its construction and decoration and may find that it is in fact by someone of the previous generation such as Richard Meares.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cello will be on display at the Reid Concert Hall Museum from this week and will also be part of the new displays at St Cecilia’s Hall in due course.  The instrument is in playing condition and we are thrilled to have permission from the owner for it to be used in concerts and for demonstrations.

The decant is complete

We have finished emptying St Cecilia’s Hall after a great deal of hard work and have left the building in the extremely capable hands of our Project Manager.  Now the surveyors can get to grips with the fundamentals of the building so that we know exactly what needs to be done before the serious building work begins.  Things look a little sad, but its exciting to think about the transformation which will happen in the next 2 years.



We have all been rehoused in the main Library and the Library Annexe as well as the Reid Concert Hall and Museum, and are getting used to our new locations.  Now that the central MIMEd team is in three different locations, we will have to work much harder to arrange our usual coffee and cake ‘meetings’!  It feels odd not going to St Cecilia’s every day, but we will get used to it and its great to be at this stage of the project.

Instruments decanted

All of the instruments have now been safely decanted from St Cecilia’s Hall.  Under Jonathan and Darryl’s watchful gaze, the men from Constantine worked carefully and finished ahead of schedule.


Most of the keyboard instruments are now safely in store and we are grateful to colleagues in Special Collections for sharing their space with us.  A couple of the smaller instruments will be slotted in at the Reid Concert Hall Museum so that our keyboards are not completely out of sight during redevelopment.  Many thanks to all for making this stage of the process go smoothly.


The Euphonicon was perhaps the hardest instrument to get out as it is both tall and extremely heavy.



We are now well in to the decanting process and some of our much loved loans of works of art have gone back to their owners.


The clock, lent by the National Trust, has been carefully packed and returned to London and the paintings and prints from the National Gallery of Scotland have been collected.

20140908_114233     OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We are very grateful to everyone who has loaned us items over the years which have helped to give St Cecilia’s Hall its period feel.  The hall is looking rather bare now but we are at an exciting stage and things are moving along quickly.

Making new (3D) plans II

Yesterday I blogged about our exciting plans for the display and interpretation of nearly 1000 historic musical instruments in the new St Cecilia’s Hall, including how we are able to work on-screen on 3D walkthroughs.

Going through the photos taken from various meetings shows that 3D modelling isn’t always high-tech however. Here are Sarah Deters, Audience Development Assistant and Jenny Nex, Curator, deciding on the placement of two fabulous 17th century archlutes from our Collections by taking the place of the musical instruments.


Should we display them facing in or out?

For those who might be interested, here are the instruments in question.  On the left is one made by Harz in 1665, and on the right the example by Rotundus, dated 1699.


Making new (3D) plans

Although we are very much focused on our ever-closer decant from St Cecilia’s Hall, it by no means takes all of our thinking time in relation to the St Cecilia’s Hall Redevelopment Project. Despite not even having closed the building yet, all staff are busy making plans for the displays that will go into the building once it re-opens.

This is, of course, one of the most enjoyable parts of our jobs.

What we are doing now will very much decide the “feel” of the new museum.  There are all sorts of questions we need to consider – how many instruments are we wanting (how dense will the display be), how do we want to arrange the instruments to tell various stories, how do we keep the visitor interested from start to finish, and (we very much hope) still wanting to come back for return visits, how do we appeal to all types of visitor from professional musicians to those who have no detailed knowledge but want to see the old (and in some cases not quite-so-old) objects.

This is not a one-step process by any means – at present it is the layout of the galleries and showcases, this will be followed by designing stands so the instruments can be clearly and unobtrusively seen, backdrops, creating labels, text for guides, publications and so on.

What is it all actually like, and how does it happen in practice, are common questions.  Here are a couple of “behind-the-scenes” photos of the team at work.  In front of the computer is Iain Coates of our museum design team Studio SP, who has a programme which allows scaled images of each of the objects to be move into 3D showcase “space”, which is projected onto the screen for us all to see.  The software also allows us to view showcases from various viewpoints in the gallery, and even have a complete walkthrough!


We are nearing the end of all of the open displays, after which our displayed objects will have all been selected (we have, of course, the possibility of tweaking a little as we progress). The chance for a whole-museum walkthrough is being increasingly anticipated.

Big Week

Edinburgh has changed from being its normal – albeit busy and excited – summertime to in Festival mode. It is always a sudden change, and always very exciting. Both the Reid Concert Hall and St Cecilia’s Hall will be open on each weekday as of August 4 – St Cecilia’s in the mornings from10.30 – 12.30, and the Reid Concert Hall from 2pm – 5pm.

The week has also been significant in that it marked the retirement of long-time Assistant Curator John Raymond who started at the Collection in 1984. It was a very different collection and time then – our two museums were under separate management, and the keyboard instruments numbered less than half of what we have at present. Unlike the busy galleries of today, they were then somewhat sparse – there was room to set up drawing boards in the galleries at a time when technical drawings were done by pen rather than computer. Much of John’s work – like much museum work in general – is not the stuff of highlights. If things go according to plan the visitor or audience member should be virtually unaware of his presence. We attend concerts, and the hope (and expectation) is that the instrument behaves perfectly and the tuning holds. It is a mark of John’s skill that only very rarely was he ever called to intervene during an event.

John Raymond working on the 1668 Stephen Keene spinet.

John Raymond working on the 1668 Stephen Keene spinet.

But many things have happened at the Hall and Collection over the intervening years that are highlights. There were several major restorations – the Hitchcock spinet and John Broadwood harpsichord being great examples. There were also two superb technical drawings – the Hitchcock spinet and the Francis Coston harpsichord. The Coston drawing even led to John being an exhibited artist when it was included in an exhibition held at the University’s Talbot Rice Gallery. There were also a number of recordings – three compilation CDs of Collection instruments each with 9 examples, and others using one or two collection objects. There were a number of important performances – perhaps none more so that during the 2013 Edinburgh International Festival when the Goermans/Taskin harpsichord was used at the Queens Hall and two further concerts took place at St Cecilia’s itself, all by the French harpsichordist Christoph Rousset. These were so widely regarded that the instrument was given a “Herald Angel” award – again where much of the credit should go to John’s preparation and tuning.

During the last dozen years the two museums have been taken under the wing of Library and University Collections, combined into a single collection structure, expanded in number by individual acquisition plus the Shackleton Collection bequest and the Rodger Mirrey keyboard collection gift. All these (and other) things have led us to the position we are at now with the St Cecilia’s Hall Redevelopment Project. We wish John well in his retirement, and are presently advertising for a Conservator to cover the whole collection (as well as for a Learning and Engagement Curator) – another example of how things have changed greatly over the past three decades.