The Cliveden Suite

Cliveden House

Composer Errollyn Wallen to create a suite of music inspired by Cliveden’s four inspirational women to fill The National Trust’s newly conserved Sounding Chamber on Cliveden Estate

In 2012, The National Trust began a five-year, £6 million restoration project to save what’s thought to be the oldest part of Cliveden’s 350 year old estate. Work first began on Cliveden’s South Terrace, a proud platform which the likes of Queen Victoria, Charlie Chaplin and characterful owner Nancy Astor, stood to enjoy far-reaching views over Buckinghamshire. Inevitably after years of destructive water penetration the 17th-century stonework was in serious need of saving. The Sounding Chamber below it, an equally outstanding structure with an elusive past, was also showing its years.

The Sounding Chamber’s conservation project began by removing damaged rendering from the walls. This process not only uncovered intricate brickwork, but the discovery of hidden light wells in the inner chamber ceiling. Suggestions for what the funnels were used for came pouring in, from the simple to the celestial, all theories were considered by the team. However, one theory stuck out, a suggestion that the funnels were designed to breathe music into another room of the house was most intriguing. The idea was supported by an archived sales inventory from 1849 which refers to the space as the ‘sounding room’, strongly indicating at this time it may have been used for music. The impressive acoustics of the domed space and the prevalence of lavish masques and balls around the time it was built also support the idea the room was used for musical performances.

Continuing the legacy

To celebrate the completion of the project, The National Trust’s Cliveden have commissioned renowned composer Errollyn Wallen to create four short pieces of music that together create The Cliveden Suite.

" ...music has a way of pushing through the cracks of history’s perception into the realm of imagination’s exactitude. I intend for my suite to convey thumbnail sketches of the vivid characters of these women and to give a sense of the atmosphere in which they lived."

Each piece of music from the suite is inspired by a former Lady of the house and is the next phase of Cliveden’s ‘Women and Power programme’.

Visitors to Cliveden can hear Wallen’s recordings and visit the newly conserved Sounding Chamber from September. During this month Cliveden’s summer planting schemes are still be in place and the final blooms in the Rose Garden will be on show until they’re deadheaded for autumn.