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A Very Innocent Diversion

[Aunt Jane] began her day with music – for which I conclude that she had a natural taste…she practiced regularly every morning – she played very pretty tunes I thought – I liked to stand by her and listen to them…much that she played was from manuscript, copied out by herself – and no neatly and correctly that it was as easy to read as print.
From the Memoirs of Jane Austen’s neice Caroline, 1867

Piano music seems to be very much at the heart of Jane Austen’s life. Her neice Caroline tells us that she practiced every day and the majority of music in the writer’s music collection at her house in Chawton, Hampshire, includes something to be played on the piano, whether as a solo instrument, or a song accompaniment or an important part in a chamber music piece she would have performed with friends and family. The music by Piccini, Pleyel and Eichner on this recording can all be found in the Chawton music collection. Further volumes of music known to have been associated with Jane Austen but not kept in her Chawton house include music by Haydn, and so two of his sonatas were chosen for the recording. Muzio Clementi was such a major musical figure at the time – he was active as a publisher, composer and piano maker – that his music must have been known to Jane Austen.

Jane Austen’s own piano was made by Stodart and would have been very similar to one of the instruments used on this recording (tracks 7-12) – a Stodart piano of 1807. This small instrument looks rather like a highly decorated small sideboard which opens up to reveal the keyboard, action and strings of a very fine instrument. Its delicate sound seems perfect for the small-scale, intimate sonatinas of Pleyel which can be found in the fourth of the eight volumes of music in Jane Austen’s Chawton collection.

The other piano used for most of the music was made by the firm of Broadwood in 1801. This is a grand piano and consequently has a fuller sound than the Stodart square piano. The Broadwood make was one of the most popular of the time. The firm made pianos for the royal family, having previously made harpsichords. In fact, this piano looks very similar in size and shape to a harpsichord, and certainly is closer in style to the older instrument than to the modern grand piano of today. What both these instruments lack compared to modern instruments is the power and sheer volume of sound that a new piano can generate from its much greater string tension and solid iron frame. Both these old pianos are lightly constructed, but what they lack in power they more than make up for in the clarity and subtlety of their sound. It is certainly the sound that Jane Austen would have known and fits the gentle, elegant character of the music extremely well. These pianos were used in the recent film version of Sense and Sensibility and in the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Track Listing

  1. Overature La Buona Figliuola: Niccolo Piccini
  2. Moderato: Joseph Haydn, Sonata in D major Hob. XVI/4
  3. Menuet: Joseph Haydn, Sonata in D major Hob. XVI/4
  4. Allegro: Joseph Haydn, Sonata in C major Hob. XVI/1
  5. Adagio: Joseph Haydn, Sonata in C major Hob. XVI/1
  6. Menuet: Joseph Haydn, Sonata in C major Hob. XVI/1
  7. Menuetto: Ignaz Pleyel, Sonatina 1 in C major
  8. Allegro: Ignaz Pleyel, Sonatina 1 in C major
  9. Allegretto e Variazione: Ignaz Pleyel, Sonatina 2 in D major
  10. Allegro: Ignaz Pleyel, Sonatina 2 in D major
  11. Moderato e due Variazione: Ignaz Pleyel, Sonatina 3 in F major
  12. Andante ma non Troppo: Ignaz Pleyel, Sonatina 4 in A major
  13. Andantino molto: Ernst Eichner, Sonata in A major Op 3/1
  14. Allegro: Ernst Eichner, Sonata in A major Op 3/1
  15. Spiritoso: Muzio Clementi, Sonatina in C major Op 36/3
  16. Un Poco Adagio: Muzio Clementi, Sonatina in C major Op 36/3
  17. Allegro: Muzio Clementi, Sonatina in C major Op 36/3
  18. Presto: Muzio Clementi, Sonatina in G major Op 36/5
  19. Air Suisse: Muzio Clementi, Sonatina in G major Op 36/5
  20. Rondo Alldegro di Molto: Muzio Clementi, Sonatina in G major Op 36/5
  21. Allegretto: Muzio Clementi, Sonatina in G major Op 36/2
  22. Allegretto: Muzio Clementi, Sonatina in G major Op 36/2
  23. Allegro: Muzio Clementi, Sonatina in G major Op 36/2

Performance by Martin Souter on Broadwood (1801) and Stodart (1807, tracks 7-12) pianos
Recorded in Finchcocks, Goudhurst, Kent by kind permission of Richard and Katrina Burnett
Pianos tuned by Alastair Lawrence
Produced by Martin Souter

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath is a permanent exhibition set in the heart of Georgian Bath, England. The centre opened in May, 1999 with the aim of providing the perfect starting point to the exploration of Bath in the time of Jane Austen.

Working closely with Classical Communications, we are delighted to present this elegant musical medley, reminiscent of times past.

A Very Innocent Diversion is available for purchase exclusively at the Jane Austen Centre, Bath. Order it online, today or stop by our Museum Shop to pick up a copy.

Text and music copyright Classical Communications, 2000
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