From instruments owned by Charles II, Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria and composers such as Elgar and Chopin, to the earliest known stringed keyboard instrument in the world (c. 1480), ancient Egyptian bone clappers in the form of human hands and an extremely rare narwhal-horn flute, the public will be able to visit a single virtual location for the first time and freely explore the UK’s most important musical instruments.
The instruments, currently held in 200 separate collections across the UK, including the Horniman Museum and Gardens, are brought together at www.minim.ac.uk thanks to a major project led by the Royal College of Music, in partnership with the Horniman Museum and Gardens, Royal Academy of Music, University of Edinburgh, and Google Arts and Culture, with funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).
Many of these collections have not been easily accessible to the public before, many of them hidden in local collections and remote locations, unseen in storage, or not previously documented online. MINIM-UK has brought together the resources that were already online (e.g. collections held by Victoria & Albert and British Museums) and, for the first time, fully documented and digitised others. Its cataloguers travelled over 10,000 miles for 200 days to collect photographs, video and sound recordings and stories spanning from the Scottish Highlands to the South coast.
This project represents a significant advance for the Horniman in achieving a wider exposure for the 2,000 or so instruments featured in its online collections. Furthermore, it will allow these objects to be directly accessed from the Europe-wide database, Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO), for the first time. This wider exposure serves the Horniman’s fundamental aims of facilitating community engagement and interdisciplinary research in its large and diverse musical instrument collection.
Among the precious instruments whose sound is available online for the first time are the Habeneck Stradivarius violin from 1734 and the earliest known stringed keyboard instrument in the world, which dates from ca. 1480. So far the sound of over 400 musical instruments has been captured, and this is set to grow in future years.
Thanks to the partnership with Google Arts and Culture, which works to digitally preserve ‘important cultural materials’ internationally, MINIM-UK represents a new model for a single resource that creates easy and free access to an otherwise greatly fragmented area of British heritage. MINIM-UK also aims to promote visitors’ numbers to small local museums and draw attention to little-known collections within large museums. It also dramatically increases the British music presence in international databases such as Europeana and MIMO – the largest worldwide resource on musical instruments funded by the EU in 2009.
Gabriele Rossi Rognoni, Curator of the Royal College of Music Museum, explains:
‘The instruments collected by the Royal College of Music, Edinburgh University, Royal Academy of Music and the Horniman Museum and Gardens over the centuries, together with extraordinary collections across the UK, are an important part of our national heritage. It is tremendously exciting to work with Google to enable so many people to connect with these beautiful and fascinating objects in a myriad of new ways. We are also delighted that thanks to the wonders of modern technology we have so many ways to allow people to explore these treasures.’
Mimi Waitzman, Deputy Keeper of Musical Instruments at the Horniman says:
‘The internationally renowned musical instrument collection at the Horniman includes over 9,000 sound-making objects representing many periods of history and diverse musical traditions across the globe. We are delighted to be part of the launch of this online platform paving the way for technology to enhance the meaning of musical collections, not only for academic researchers, but also for larger and broader audiences.MINIM represents a significant advance for the Horniman in achieving this wider exposure for the 2,000 or so instruments featured in its online collections. We look forward to growing with MINIM as this valuable and much-needed project continues to reach out and develop.’