Jane Austen's Ipod
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 Austen's Ipod is the title of a radio program on Austen and her music that's currently available on the BBC site (but not for long, probably only until the end of the week, so get there soon!).
Several more volumes of Austen's music have been donated by a descendant (who remembers seeing the volumes on the family piano) in addition to the eight already owned by the Jane Austen Museum, Chawton Cottage, Hampshire, where the BBC discussion was recorded, creaky floors and all, with scholars Deirdre La Faye and Samantha Carrasco, and the music interpreted by jazz singer Gwyneth Herbert and a very skilled clarinettist.
The piano in the recording is the one in the Museum, which may or may not have been Austen's, a Clementi dating from the first decade of the nineteenth century. We know from her letters that she paid 30 gns for her piano (approx. $3,000 now) and six shillings for a book of piano lessons (approx. $31). Because of the high cost of sheet music, it was common to copy music borrowed from friends or libraries, which Jane did in her meticulous, careful handwriting.
There's one mystery item in the new acquisitions: an anonymous and not particularly good piece of music that the participants speculate may have been written by Jane herself. I don't think so. I believe she was enough of a musician to know her limitations, and it's quite possible a friend or relative composed it and Jane, impeccably polite as ever, felt compelled to copy it for her album with the proud composer breathing down her neck. On the other hand there are plenty of musicians--Berlioz, for instance--who were as at home in the composition of prose as of music.
We have a record of Jane as musician written by her niece Caroline years later in 1867. The quote at the beginning of this entry is also from Caroline's Memoir:
Aunt Jane began her day with music – for which I conclude she had a natural taste; as she thus kept it up – 'tho she had no one to teach; was never induced (as I have heard) to play in company; and none of her family cared much for it. I suppose that she might not trouble them, 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.Can you see Austen as composer as well as performer?
I'm going to England on a short visit in early July and planning to visit both the Museum and Chawton House, the manor house that was owned by Jane's brother Edward Austen Knight, who was adopted by the Knight family. It's been restored and houses a major collection of women's writing in English from 1600-1830. So I'll report on that next month.
Have you visited either? What's your favorite Austen site (internet or real life)?