Shaking for Queen Victoria

In her 64 years as the reigning monarch of the British Empire, Queen Victoria oversaw a prolific era of cultural, industrial, and political change. Even more remarkable was the fact that music occupied a central place in the lives of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. Both were accomplished pianists and singers, and Prince Albert was a rather keen composer. When they first met in 1836, she wrote, “…he sang to me some of his own compositions, which are beautiful, and he has a very fine voice. I also sang from him.”

Sir George Hayter's coronation portrait of the Queen

Sir George Hayter’s coronation portrait of the Queen © Wikipedia

Their mutual music-making centered around the piano duet repertoires, and they would always travel with large quantities of sheet music. And it follows that at every palace, at Balmoral, at Osborne, and even on the royal yacht, they had pianos. The Queen even made a list of many of the pieces she and the Prince played together, which included much of Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart.

Vincenzo Bellini: I Capuleti e I Montechi, “Ascolta… Se Romeo t’uccise”

The Queen once tellingly declared, “I am afraid I am too modern to appreciate Mozart much,” but she nevertheless loved “Don Giovanni.” In fact, she was crazy about the theatre and opera and saw up to 50 performances a year! The Queen had a remarkably good ear, and once, she asked Baroness Bloomfield to sing for her. Trembling with fear, the Baroness sang an aria by Bellini, made famous by the exceptional singer Giuditta Grisi. Bloomfield sang bravely but omitted the trill—or the “shake” as it was known at that time—from the end of the aria. When the Queen asked Lady Normandy, “Does your sister not shake?” “Your Majesty,” was the reply, “singing in front of you, she is shaking all over.”

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