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Royal Academy of Music refutes reports of disposal of Handel manuscripts

The London conservatoire has pushed back against reports in the Daily Telegraph and The Times that it is purging its collection of instruments and artefacts tainted by links to slavery

National newspapers have claimed that the composer Georg Frideric Handel’s recently disclosed investments in the slave-trading Royal Africa Company meant original manuscripts would be disposed of and that many priceless instruments would be removed from the Academy’s’s collection because of their use of colonial ivory and ebony. The Daily Telegraph suggested that Mozart, too, would be under scrutiny because his father, Leopold, had sought the patronage of slave-owners while visiting Britain.

The Royal Academy of Music has denied this, stating, ‘We will not be disposing of musical instruments based on their provenance or associations. Additionally, the Telegraph article stated that we hold a ‘vast collection of manuscripts by the composer Handel’ – we do not, in fact, own any original manuscripts by Handel.’

The Academy has, however, been working with its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group and will take the opportunity to reinterpret the history of music and its influence on the present day. The lockdown period has allowed for considerable reflection and the events of the last year have highlighted the ongoing inequalities across British society. So, the Royal Academy is adapting accordingly, making its syllabus increasingly diverse and inclusive and placing the music it teaches into clearer historical context.

‘The Academy has always trained its students for the evolving professional environments of being a musician,’ it stated. ‘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. This training includes giving voice to figures who have previously been silenced or marginalised, as well as understanding the contexts in which iconic figures such as Handel and Mozart worked. We have not removed Handel, or any other composer, from the syllabus.

‘For us, inclusion means widening the net, not cancelling historical figures and artefacts.’