Nash view of Music Room, 1826.
After the restraint of the Music Room Gallery, we return to luxurious opulence in the Music Room, another magnificent space that mirrors the Banqueting Room in size, richness of decoration and positioning in the Pavilion.
Please walk all the way into the room. Feel free to sit on the floor or on one of the benches while you listen. Beneath your feet is a, hand-knotted carpet, as there was during George’s time.
The decoration around us is by Frederick Crace, and continues the Chinese theme, dominated by reds and golds. Gilded snake like dragons, both painted and carved, crawl along the walls or slither down columns. Beautiful lotus-shaped chandeliers provide light, and murals on the walls show Chinese scenes filled with bamboo and pagodas, mirroring the three-dimensional pagodas that used to stand along the walls and which are now at Buckingham Palace. This interplay between two and three dimensions can be seen throughout the Pavilion.
‘Generations of the Crace family were used by George in the Royal Pavilion and they were one of the first interior decorators as we understand it. It’s very interesting this, because one of the innovations of the Pavilion is the use of interior decorators rather than architects to design the interiors here. We’re familiar with interior decorators today; they were quite new at the time. And this is one of the very first buildings where the architect, who was John Nash, didn’t design the interiors. He overlooked them, he was interested in them, of course he designed aspects of them, but for instance, the furniture and things like that which in the past the architect might have designed, here were designed by Crace.’
Music was another of George’s passions. He played the cello and the pianoforte, and enjoyed singing. But he also employed his own private band at great expense, with anything up to forty or more musicians playing percussion and woodwind, much like a military band today. Members of the band provided music during dinner, and then performed between 9 o’clock and midnight, with an extensive repertoire that included works by Beethoven and Handel.
In 1823, the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini was a guest at the Royal Pavilion, and performed several of his works on the piano.
The organ on the north wall, replacing the original one that was here, was built in 1822 for the Royal Chapel in Brighton. The original, by the same manufacturer, is now in the Ballroom at Buckingham Palace, though it has been much modified. Here the organ pipes are visible, but the keyboard is hidden from sight behind one of the panels. The large clock is on the mantelpiece is a replica of the original.
The room was the scene of a dramatic episode in 1975, when an arson attack devastated the room, destroying much of the ceiling and damaging murals and fittings. Restoration took eleven years, and had only just finished when disaster struck again. During the great storm of 1987 a ball of stone from one of the minarets was dislodged, and came crashing through the roof before embedding itself in the floor. The whole room has been painstakingly restored, including re-gilding each one of the 10,000 cockle shells on the dome.
Born in 1757, John Nash was the Prince Regent’s favourite architect. His work includes Regent’s Park and Regent Street, as well as Buckingham Palace and, of course, the Royal Pavilion, which he remodelled from 1815 to 1823 to create the spectacular building we can see today.
Nash was extremely varied in his tastes and worked in many different styles. He liked unusually shaped rooms, interesting outlines, and illusion, and he specialised in theatricality and exaggeration. In short, he was the ideal architect for the Prince Regent.
For the Pavilion, he drew on a variety of sources, but particularly William and Thomas Daniell’s book of Indian landscapes entitled Oriental scenery, and Humphry Repton’s unexecuted designs for a pavilion in the Indian style. He also added a little Gothic and Chinese, for good measure.
For the pavilion’s interior, Nash used all kinds of theatrical lighting effects, especially combinations of glass skylights and mirrored doors to create space and fantasy, and to add grandeur to a limited space.
With George’s death in 1830, Nash lost his patron and protector. Due to George’s extravagance, costs at Buckingham Palace had soared, and Nash took the blame. His career was effectively over and he died in 1835.