ROYAL COLLEGE OF MUSIC

The Royal College of Music is a conservatoire established by royal charter in 1882, located in South Kensington, London, UK. It offers training from the undergraduate to the doctoral level in all aspects of Western Music including performance, composition, conducting, music theory and history. The RCM also undertakes research, with particular strengths in performance practice and performance science. The college is one of the four conservatories of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and a member of Conservatoires UK. Its buildings are directly opposite the Royal Albert Hall on Prince Consort Road, next to Imperial College and among the museums and cultural centres of Albertopolis.

Background

The college was founded in 1883 to replace the short-lived and unsuccessful National Training School for Music (NTSM). The school was the result of an earlier proposal by the Prince Consort to provide free musical training to winners of scholarships under a nationwide scheme. After many years’ delay it was established in 1876, with Arthur Sullivan as its principal. Conservatoires to train young students for a musical career had been set up in major European cities, but in London the long-established Royal Academy of Music had not supplied suitable training for professional musicians: in 1870 it was estimated that fewer than ten per cent of instrumentalists in London orchestras had studied at the academy. The NTSM’s aim, summarised in its founding charter, was:

To establish for the United Kingdom such a School of Music as already exists in many of the principal Continental countries, – a School which shall take rank with the Conservatories of Milan, Paris, Vienna, Leipsic, Brussels, and Berlin, – a School which shall do for the musical youth of Great Britain what those Schools are doing for the talented youth of Italy, Austria, France, Germany, and Belgium.

The school was housed in a new building in Kensington Gore, opposite the west side of the Royal Albert Hall. The building was not large, having only 18 practice rooms and no concert hall. In a 2005 study of the NTSM and its replacement by the RCM, David Wright observes that the building is “more suggestive of a young ladies’ finishing school than a place for the serious training of professional musicians”.

Under Sullivan, a reluctant and ineffectual principal, the NTSM failed to provide a satisfactory alternative to the Royal Academy and, by 1880, a committee of examiners comprising Charles Hallé, Sir Julius Benedict, Sir Michael Costa, Henry Leslie and Otto Goldschmidt reported that the school lacked “executive cohesion”. The following year Sullivan resigned and was replaced by John Stainer. In his 2005 study of the NTSM, Wright comments:

Like the RAM at that time, the NTSM simply failed to relate its teaching to professional need and so did not discriminate between the education required to turn out professional instrumentalists/singers and amateur/ social musicians; nor between elementary and advanced teachers. And because its purpose was unclear, so was its provision.[4]

Even before the 1880 report, it had become clear that the NTSM would not fulfil the role of national music conservatoire. As early as 13 July 1878, a meeting was held at Marlborough House, London under the presidency of the Prince of Wales, “for the purpose of taking into consideration the advancement of the art of music and establishing a college of music on a permanent and more extended basis than that of any existing institution”.[5] The original plan was to merge the Royal Academy of Music and the National Training School of Music into a single, enhanced organisation. The NTSM agreed, but after prolonged negotiations, the Royal Academy refused to enter into the proposed scheme.

In 1881, with George Grove as a leading instigator and with the support of the Prince of Wales, a draft charter was drawn up for a successor body to the NTSM. The Royal College of Music occupied the premises previously home to the NTSM and opened there on 7 May 1883. Grove was appointed its first director. There were 50 scholars elected by competition and 42 fee-paying students.

Curriculum

The college teaches all aspects of Western classical music from undergraduate to doctoral level. There is a junior department, where 300 children aged 8 to 18 are educated on Saturdays.