I’m curious if anyone enjoys seeing references to Classical music when reading Pride and Prejudice variations as much as I do. I likely have likely mentioned it before, but I’ve listened to Classical since I was a kid, and though I think I have quite a bit of knowledge, there’s always something more I don’t know, and I often find new material out in Pride and Prejudice variations I read. I’m always sure to look them up and to enjoy listening to them as I’m reading; it brings me closer to the story somehow.
The 1995 A&E miniseries is also an especial favorite to a certain extent because of the music. Whether it’s Mary plunking away the chords to Ombra Mai Fu, or Elizabeth’s rendition of Voi che Sapete, it adds ambience and context. And it doesn’t hurt at all that the music is beautiful!
Having said that, have you ever read a variation which references a piece of music which was still to be written? Some time ago, I was reading one (I can’t remember which one is was), and the writer referenced a piece by Chopin. Chopin was a marvelous composer, though not one of my favorites, but the main problem is that he wasn’t even born until 1810, and though he began composing at the astonishing age of seven, that is still much too late for Pride and Prejudice. It’s even more jarring when you remember that Chopin grew up in Warsaw. It’s not like a character in a novel of the time could simply pull out an iPod and purchase his early works through iTunes. It took time for music to radiate out from where it was written.
It’s back to the question of proper research and the avoidance of anachronisms which has been discussed many times. As Pride and Prejudice writers we try to avoid anachronisms in word use, world events, etc., but we must also make certain to avoid using references to music that simply don’t make sense.
Considering that the transition from the Classical to the Romance eras was underway by about 1820, most Romance composers cannot be used. Thus, Brahms, Chopin, Wagner, Mendellsohn, etc., are out. Baroque composers can be used, and I’ve often seen (and used) references to Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti. Mozart is a good one, since he had some measure of success during his life and his death occurred only fifteen years before the setting of Pride and Prejudice. Beethoven, who is considered a transition figure from Classical to Romance, is fine, but you must take care in what you use, as he began composing before and died about seventeen years after. Schubert is in the same category.
It all comes down to the creative use of history to support and enhance your story. Though there are many people out there who wouldn’t know Vivaldi from Rachmaninoff, there will be plenty who do, and some might call you out on it. The rule of thumb is to do your research and don’t jar your readers by using references that don’t belong!