Musical treats at Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor is alive with the sound of music this Christmas. Drawing inspiration from the musical legacy of the Rothschild family, some of the rooms in the house have been decorated in the themes of traditional Christmas carols. As you step into each room, you can admire the themed decorations and hear the relevant carol playing. 

Other rooms feature Christmas ballet favourite The Nutcracker as well as iconic pop hits such as The Little Drummer Boy and White Christmas.

Music has been a significant thread running through generations of Rothschilds. Waddesdon creator Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild and his youngest sister, Alice, always ensured there was music at the heart of their famous weekend parties.

Mathilde, another of Ferdinand’s sisters, was one of several Rothschild composers and a favourite pupil of Chopin’s. When Chopin performed for Baroness Betty de Rothschild, Mathilde’s aunt, it was reputedly the launch of his career and he dedicated his Waltz in C sharp minor to Betty.

Members of the family today have carried on the musical tradition, including soprano Charlotte de Rothschild, who has performed in Waddesdon’s concert series at Windmill Hill. 

This year’s themed displays allow Waddesdon to highlight some of the music-related objects within its collections. On the upper floor, for instance, you can see rare musical instruments dating back to the 17th century, including a kit violin from 1695 by Jacobus Fichtold, an 18th century violin from France and an 18th century hunting horn, also from France. 

There is also a copy of the manuscript for one of Mathilde’s compositions, Melodies, written in 1878.

Another very special display is in the White Drawing Room, which has been decorated in the theme of I Saw Three Ships. The table has been laid for the evening meal, and grabbing the attention in the centre of the table are three very rare, richly-coloured Sèvres porcelain vases in the shape of ships, which would originally have been created for filling with pot pourri.

Each of the place settings includes a ship with sails made of sheet music, and the Christmas trees either side of the fireplace are adorned with nautical decorations.

There is music all around as you stroll through the manor. Welcoming visitors at the entrance are displays of illuminated manuscripts, golden instruments and a 15ft fir tree, to the accompaniment of O Christmas Tree.  The East Gallery, appropriately, focuses on the kings from the Orient, with We Three Kings playing in the background. In the hearth is a model of the three kings, and if you peer into the Christmas tree you will see that the decorations are glittering golden camels, stars and crowns.

The While Shepherds Watched room features model sheep and a Christmas tree decorated with sheep, angels and shepherds’ crooks. 

A tree made of sheet music greets you as head upstairs, the tree in the Twelve Days of Christmas room has all those fantastic gifts from “my true love” nestling in the tree, and ballet fans will love the Nutcracker-themed room with its ballet shoes and nutcrackers. 

And don’t miss the We Wish You a Merry Christmas room with its giant Christmas pudding, the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer room and the enchanting White Christmas display.

Outside, the front of the manor is illuminated by a colourful light show to the soundtrack of Christmas classicswhile the light trail through the gardens – the longest ever at Waddesdon – is accompanied for part of the way by some more music from The Nutcracker.

Waddesdon always puts on a good display at Christmas, but this year’s theme of festive music makes it arguably one of the best yet – one that will enchant everyone, but will hold a special appeal for anyone with an interest in music. 

NICOLA LISLE

‘Christmas at Waddesdon’ runs until 5th January. Visit www.waddesdon.org.uk for details.

Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/jrOkxwojLbU

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