This year's Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace has a musical accompaniment

Release date: 
Tuesday, 27 April 2004

From command performances to costume balls, musical entertainment at Buckingham Palace will be the focus of a special display at this year's Summer Opening of the State Rooms (31 July - 26 September 2004).  Historic fancy-dress costumes, musical instruments and manuscripts, photographs and souvenirs will be shown in the magnificent surroundings of the Ball Supper Room, which itself has been the setting for many glittering events in the Palace's history.

As part of the audio tour of the State Rooms, visitors will hear the voices of famous performers, the sounds of the original instruments on show and some of the music specially composed for the royal family. Among the highlights are Johann Strauss's waltz for Queen Victoria's coronation, Felix Mendelssohn's special arrangements of his Songs Without Words, and The Queen's Suite by Duke Ellington, created and recorded for Her Majesty The Queen in 1959.

Queen Victoria was the first monarch to take up residence at Buckingham Palace, which she soon made into the social and cultural centre of the country.  As she explained in a letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, her plan to add an east wing and ballroom to the Palace would provide space for 'those persons whom the Queen has to invite in the course of the season to balls, concerts etc.'  On 10 May 1838, as part of the celebrations leading up to her coronation, she held the first State Ball at the Palace, writing in her diary the next day, 'I have been dancing till past four o'clock this morning.'  The display at the Summer Opening will include a ball dress of cream silk taffeta worn by Queen Victoria in the early years of her reign.

With her consort, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria held a series of famous costume balls at Buckingham Palace.  The Bal Costumé of 1842 was devised by the theatrical designer J.R. Planché, who insisted on historical accuracy in the dress of the 2,000 guests: 'Tissues must be woven expressly - spurs, weapons, and jewelry modelled and manufactured on, shoes, gauntlets, hose, nearly every article of apparel must be made to order'.  The royal couple appeared as Queen Philippa and Edward III, the Founder of the Order of the Garter.  Their elaborate medieval costumes, expressly intended to give employment to the weavers of Spitalfields, are recorded in the magnificent portrait by Sir Edwin Landseer.

Queen Victoria's costume for the 1851 Stuart Ball is of silver-grey, watered silk taffeta over a shimmering brocade petticoat, with the distinctive deep lace collar and cuffs of the Restoration period.  It is beautifully trimmed with gold and silver braid, rows of pearls and pink ribbon rosettes. The dress will be shown alongside the original design by the artist Eugène Lami.  For the Fancy Ball of 1874, Queen Victoria's daughter-in-law Alexandra, Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra) went in the character of Mary, Queen of Scots.  The exquisite dress of purple silk velvet and green silk satin is decorated with gold and silver lace and braid, while the petticoat is embellished with red, blue and white paste jewels.   

From the mid-19th century, Buckingham Palace was an established venue for musicians from all over Europe. Mendelssohn was a frequent visitor and performer, Johann Strauss the Elder conducted on a dozen occasions, and all the great singers of the day - among them Clara Novello, Adelina Patti, Madame Albani, Enrico Caruso and Clara Butt -  were heard in a series of fifty State Concerts. For these grand occasions, the sovereign's 'private band' was supplemented by the temporary recruitment of orchestral musicians from London's theatres and opera houses. Musical instruments and scores used by the private bands from reign of George III until the early  20th  century  will  be  on  show  in  the  Ball  Supper  Room,  including  the  17th-century double bass bequeathed to Prince Albert by its most celebrated exponent, Domenico Dragonetti.

During the present reign the musical life of the Palace has embraced dance bands and performances by artists such as The Three Degrees and Elton John.  Many distinguished musicians, such as Sir Yehudi Menuhin and Mstislav Rostropovich, have performed at the invitation of The Prince of Wales as part of full-scale orchestral concerts in support of The Prince's charities.  The spectacular Queen's Concerts in Golden Jubilee year were enjoyed by an audience of 24,000 in the garden of Buckingham Palace.

The Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace is from 31 July to 26 September 2004.  Timed tickets. 09:30-16:30 every day (last admission 16:15). 

Admission  to  the  State  Rooms and  the  special  musical  entertainment  display, with an audio tour:
Adult  £12.95
Over 60/Student  £11.00
Under 17   £6.50
Family  (2 adults, 3 under 17s) £32.50
Under 5 free.

Advance tickets are available from or 020 7766 7300.

Further information is available from Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, telephone: 020 7839 1377,   Images are available from the Royal Collection's folder in the Arts section on PA's Picselect or through the PA bulletin board.