Posted on June 2, 2021

Royal Academy of Music to ‘Decolonise’ Collection as Composer Linked to Slave Trade

Maddy Shaw Roberts, Classic FM, May 24, 2021

Pianos made with colonial ivory, and sculptures of a revered composer who invested heavily in the slave trade, are under review at the UK’s oldest conservatoire.

Officials at the Royal Academy of Music have confirmed they are reassessing the conservatoire’s 200-year-old collection to free up space for student learning, and to review its artefacts “through a decolonisation lens”.

The review could give wider context to the Academy’s displayed portraits and sculptures of Baroque composer George Frideric Handel, who we now know repeatedly invested in the transatlantic slave trade.

Other items ripe for reevaluation in the on-site museum include rare 18th-century pianos and violins, whose keys and fingerboards were made with colonial ivory and ebony.

A spokesperson for the conservatoire told Classic FM: “The Academy has always trained its students for the evolving professional environments of being a musician.

“It is vital that they understand the cultural, political and socio-economic forces that have shaped musical traditions, as well as the issues that are shaping it in the present, such as the pandemic and questions around equality, diversity and inclusion.”


But, the conservatoire emphasised, it will not be removing Handel from its syllabus, as has been suggested elsewhere. {snip}