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Music in the Life and Work of Jane Austen


We know Jane Austen as the author of  wonderful novels about life and love in the English countryside of the Regency era.  Her readers are familiar with crucial scenes in the stories involving playing the piano, and of dancing at balls.  Music is important in the world of these novels.  But music was particularly important to Jane Austen, because she was herself a pianist who enjoyed the habit of practicing daily.  Letters, written mostly to her dear sister Cassandra, provide key details about Jane’s feelings about music. More remarkably, the actual sheet music that she played has been preserved at her home.

 

Jane Austen’s niece Caroline, in her Memoir of 1867, reminisced:

“Aunt Jane began her day with music – for which I conclude she had a natural taste; ... she chose her practising time before breakfast – when she could have the room to herself – She practised regularly every morning – She played very pretty tunes, I thought – and I liked to stand by her and listen to them; but the music (for I knew the books well in after years) would now be thought disgracefully easy – Much that she played from was manuscript, copied out by herself – and so neatly and correctly, that it was as easy to read as print.”

 

Jane’s nephew recalled: “at Chawton she practiced daily, chiefly before breakfast.  I believe she did so partly that she might not disturb the rest of the party who were less fond of music.  In the evening she would sometimes sing, to her own accompaniment, some simple old songs…”



In this presentation I touch on several aspects of music making in Jane Austen’s England, including women’s and men’s involvement in music, social dancing, professional concerts, the development of the piano, the Austen family’s collection of music, and finally two scenes from Pride and Prejudice about music and taste. There is also the opportunity to hear selections from the Chawton Collection of the Jane Austen Memorial Trust.



Subpages (1): Jane Austen's Music
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