I’m a piano player, but I’m no Jane Fairfax or Georgianna Darcy. I identify with Elizabeth Bennet, who was much more interested in dancing than in practicing the piano.Like Elizabeth, I’ve had someone tell me, in lecture mode ala Lady Catherine de Bourgh, that she would have practiced hours a day if she’d had the chance to take piano lessons as a child. Not me. There were days when I watched “Charlie’s Angels” or “The Brady Bunch” or just stared at the wall instead of playing my Bach. Still, I practiced a few minutes most days, and can play most easy songs and hymns.
Jane Austen was more dedicated to her piano than I was. She practiced every morning before breakfast. According to her neice, Jane played like Anne Elliot, tickling the ivories for the enjoyment of her family. Also, like Anne, she preferred to play fast. Unlike Mary Bennet, Jane shied away from playing or singing in public
Many of the songs she preferred are no longer popular today. Her music collection contained English folksongs, Irish and Scottish airs, music from popular plays, as well as pieces by now-obscure classical composers.Back in Regency England, sheet music was expensive, so she copied a lot of music by hand into the Austen family music books.
The University of Southampton’s Hartley Library owns the Austen Family Music collection today (though I believe it is only part of the collection since I also read that Chawton House Trust owns some of Jane’s music.) Recently, the library began sharing the digital versions online. I thought it might be fun to play some of the music Jane played, so I visited the site. One of the books is labeled with Jane’s name and the first page notes that this book contains “Juvenile Songs & Lessons.” Below this, it reads, “for young beginners who don’t know enough to practise.” That sounded like something I could handle, so I looked through the book. My pie-in-the sky dream was to make a little video of myself playing Jane’s music. When I finally found a piece that looked like it was indeed for young beginners, I found that it was too difficult to read from my tablet, and when I printed it out, I couldn’t make out the lines of the staff.
So, since I was unable to play any of the music for you today, I’m sharing some youtube versions of tunes Jane kept in her music books. Here are two pieces that are still familiar today:
O Waly Waly
I’d love to know which Jane Austen character you resemble musically. Perhaps, you’re like Catherine Morland, and you don’t play an instrument at all. Or maybe you’re a Marianne Dashwood, and you love to express your emotions through song. Are you an Emma Woodhouse, who intends to practice but never gets around to it? Or are you more of an Elinor Dashwood with more practical things to occupy your time? Please let us know in the comments which character is most like you.