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The Jane Austen Songbooks

The Pianoforte was one of the most popular instruments for young ladies to learn to play during the Regency. With this, they could accompany dancers or singers or play solos that would entertain guests at gatherings and display their talents for all to see. Jane Austen, herself, was an accomplished musician and the following CDs give a glimpse into the types of music that she might have enjoyed.

Jane’s Hand: The Jane Austen Songbooks

Borrowing from Jane Austen’s own meticulously kept music books, Jane’s Hand reproduces 22 pieces of music written for piano and voice. The CD, which runs nearly 80 minutes, includes pieces by Handel, Gluck, Gay and even Georgiana Cavendish, the notorious Duchess of Devonshire. With guest appearances from an array of Sopranos and Tenors, as well as period instrument players (the Harpsichord, Fortepiano, Baroque Violin and Baroque Guitar), familar pieces are interspersed with period gems. The included 20 page booklet provides the history of Jane Austen’s music, as well as photographs of Chawton Cottage and Jane’s fortepiano. Information on the musicians as well as the full text of each song is also given.

For those who can’t get enough of the music from the movies, How Can Show How Much I Love Her? (Virgins are like a fair flower…) and Silent Worship (Did you not hear my lady?) – both featured in Emma2, are here performed. Click below for a sample. This CD was released in 1996 by Vox Classics. Though difficult to find, it’s well worth searching for.

Piano Classics from the World of Jane Austen

One of the best “Jane Austen” CDs available, Piano Classics from the World of Jane Austen features classical piano music accurately reflecting the musical milieu of Jane Austen’s period and social sphere. Only imagine, this is what was heard emanating from the elegant drawing rooms graced by many of Austen’s immortal and pianistic heroines. All musical selections are drawn from Austen’s personal library, social sphere, or time period.

The CD contains 73 minutes of music by well-known and lesser-known composers, including four complete sonatas, and premiere recordings of works by Cramer, Clementi, and Schobert. Included is a delightful 16-page booklet featuring a bibliography and in-depth program notes discussing Jane Austen’s pianistic background, the role music performance fulfills in Austen’s plot/character development and social satire, historic/stylistic sketches of each piece, and the artist’s personal speculations as to who might have played what, where, and under what circumstances.

The Jane Austen Companion

Produced by Nimbus Records, this CD, The Jane Austen Companion, is just that. A terrific companion to reading her works, writing your own Regency pieces or for simply getting you in that “Regency” mood. This CD is a delightful mix of popular pieces of the time. As the intelligent and interesting notes maintain, “London at the time of Jane Austen was one of the most exciting centers in all of Europe for music,” and this was an era of great fertility of composers in general. Lucky Jane! Imagine publishing your second novel the same year that Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony receives its premiere. Or offering your fourth novel to the public near the time of the first performance of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony. The program highlights popular music from Austen’s time by Mendelssohn, Haydn, Fasch, J.C. Bach, Boyce, Schubert and others.*

While there is no proof that Jane, herself, favored these composers or even listened to these particular pieces, they do provide a lovely picture of this period’s music for the upper classes. Other CDs may contain country dances or chamber pieces- both popular and important styles of the time- this is just a slice of life- a peek into the Regency’s orchestral scene.

*Gwendolyn Freed and other quotes from

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The Harp as a Status Symbol

The Harp as a Status Symbol

A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart.

Mansfield Park

Next to the Pianoforte, the Harp is the most mentioned instrument in Jane Austen’s Novels. Lessons on the Harp were reserved for the privileged daughters of indulgent parents. While the piano was necessary and functional, the harp was stylish. It was an expensive indulgence taught by visiting “Masters”. Some music training, along with art and dancing lessons was deemed necessary to finish off the training provided by the family governess, regardless of Whether the family daughters were sent to school or not.

Indeed, the level of education obtained by Jane Austen’s heroines is in direct proportion to her family’s financial and social status. Jane Fairfax, Marianne Dashwood and Anne Elliot play the piano, but Catherine Morland, daughter of a country curate neither draws or plays. Mary Crawford, Georgiana Darcy and Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove, wealthy, fashionable young ladies, all, play the harp.

In his essay on female accomplishments, Henry Churchyard notes, “For women of the “genteel” classes the goal of non-domestic education was thus often the acquisition of “accomplishments”, such as the ability to draw, sing, play music, or speak modern (i.e. non-Classical) languages (generally French and Italian). Though it was not usually stated with such open cynicism, the purpose of such accomplishments was often only to attract a husband; so that these skills then tended to be neglected after marriage (Lady Middleton in Sense and Sensibility “had celebrated her marriage by giving up music, although by her mother’s account she had played extremely well, and by her own was very fond of it”, while Mrs. Elton in Emma fears that her musical skills will deteriorate as have those of several married women she knows). In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet displays her relatively detached attitude towards the more trivial aspects of this conventional game by adopting a somewhat careless attitude towards her “accomplishment” of playing the piano, and not practicing it diligently.”

The harp’s origins may lie in the sound of a plucked hunter’s bow string. The oldest documented references to the harp are from 4000 BC in Egypt and 3000 BC in Mesopotamia. While the harp is mentioned in most translations of the Bible, King David being the most prominent musician, the Biblical “harp” was actually a kinnor, a type of lyre with 10 strings. Harps also appear in ancient epics, and in Egyptian wall paintings. This kind of harp, now known as the folk harp, continued to evolve in many different cultures all over the world. It may have developed independently in some places.

The lever harp came about in the second half of the 17th century to enable key changes while playing. The player manually turned a hook or lever against an individual string to raise the string’s pitch by a semitone. In the 1700s, a link mechanism was developed connecting these hooks with pedals, leading to the invention of the single-action pedal harp. Later, a second row of hooks was installed along the neck to allow for the double-action pedal harp, capable of raising the pitch of a string by either one or two semitones. With this final enhancement, the modern concert harp was born.

The European harp tradition seems to have originated in ancient Ireland over a thousand years ago. In Irish mythology, a magical harp, Daurdabla is possessed by The Dagda. Most European-derived harps have a single row of strings with strings for each note of the C Major scale (over several octaves). Harpists can tell which strings they are playing because all F strings are black or blue and all C strings are red or orange. The instrument rests between the knees of the harpist and along their right shoulder. The Welsh triple harp and early Irish and Scottish harp24s, however, are traditionally placed on the left shoulder. The first four fingers of each hand are used to pluck the strings; the pinky fingers are too short and cannot reach the correct position without distorting the position of the other fingers, although on some folk harp25s with light tension, closely spaced strings, they may occasionally be used. Plucking with varying degrees of force creates dynamics. Depending on finger position, different tones can be produced: a fleshy pluck (near the middle of the first finger joint) will make a warm tone, while a pluck near the end of the finger will make a loud, bright sound.


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Jane Austen’s Piano

Jane Austen Piano Brooch

On the left is the Jane Austen Gift Shop’s beautiful new piano brooch, designed to reflect the importance of the piano both in Jane Austen’s life and her works.

Though crafted for the first time in the early 1700s, the piano-forte was, by Jane’s era, the most widely played instrument in the growing middle class. In a time before recordings of any kind, live performance was they only way to enjoy music. Proficiency on an instrument was equally essential for entertainment and as a marketable skill, whether in the job market (as a governess, perhaps) or the marriage market, as yet another accomplishment to add to one’s list. Public performance at parties gave young ladies added exposure on an already crowded field.
More of Jane Austen’s heroines play the piano (in her books, known as the piano, pianoforte and piano-forte) than any other instrument. In fact, as in life, the majority play to some extent and it is, rather, those who do not that we may look to for character observation.

Elizabeth Bennet assists Georgianna Darcy at the piano. A&E, 1995.Catherine Morland and Fanny Price, models of modest simplicity, have no desire to learn (and perhaps an inferred desire to avoid performance) Practical Elinor Dashwood leaves the playing to her younger sister Marianne, who excels at both the emotional side of musical interpretation and the art of performing. Anne Du Bourgh is, her mother thinks, too ill to learn (or is it her mother, who similarly never learnt, trying to control her daughter in this area as well?)

Learning to play the piano posed its own problems. Most young ladies would have been taught by a governess or traveling master, though Jane, studied with the respected composer and organist, William Chard well into her twenties, long after most girls would have given up their lessons. After that point, it was up to the student to progress if she wished, on her own. Jane owned a small piano at various times during her life and, when this was not an option, rented one. She played for her own enjoyment and would rise an hour before the rest of the family in order to get her practicing done. This determination made her a delightful player and no doubt in demand for entertainment and impromptu dancing when her nieces and nephews came for visits.
Sheet music was expensive at that time and friends would often loan their copies to each other to be copied into private notebooks. Jane Austen penned several such books, eight of which are held by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust in Chawton.

Now available from the Jane Austen Gift Shop:

Piano Brooch in silver, marcasite and pearls

Jane Austen’s Piano Favourites – part of a wide range of CDs

A Carriage Ride In Queen Square – Sheet music with accompanying CD

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The Advent of Valentines

“Tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day, when every bird chooses her mate. I will plague you no longer now,
providing you will let me see you from your window tomorrow when the sun first peeps over the eastern hill, and give me right to be your Valentine for the year.”
Sir Walter Scott
The Fair Maid of Perth, 1828

Valentine’s day is one of the earliest Christian holidays. Springing from the ancient Roman fertility

festival of the Luprical, in 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius attempted to ban the pagan ritual by replacing it

with a Saints Day celebration. He named February 14 in honor of St. Valentine, the patron saint of

lovers. Though the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or

Valentinus, (all of whom were martyred on February 14) tradition holds that this Valentine was a

priest imprisoned for marrying young lovers againse the Ceasar’s command. Sometime around 270 A.D.

Emperor Claudius II had decided that single men made better soldiers than married ones. He therefore

decreed that young men not be allowed to marry. When Valentine was found defying this order, he was

impriosoned and later beheaded. The legend continues that while in prison, Valentine fell in love with

his jailor’s blind daughter. Shortly before his execution, he sent her a farewell letter which was

signed “from your Valentine.” Words that are used even to this day.

Later, Medieval Europeans believed that birds began to mate on February 14. Doves and pigeons mate for

life and were therefore used as a symbol of fidelity. Also during the Middle Ages, people began to

send love letters on Valentine’s Day. The first “official” valentine was sent by the Charles, Duke of

Orleans in 1415. Imprisoned in the Tower of London following the battle of Agincourt, he passed the

time by writing love poems to his wife.

target=”new”>This letter is now part of the collection of the British Library in London.

A Redoute Rose
It wasn’t until the 1600’s that Valentine’s day as a holiday really took off. Sending flowers as a

Valentine’s gift began in the early 1700’s when King Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical

art called the


language of flowers to Europe. Throughout the 18th century, floral dictionaries were published,

allowing friends and lovers to send secret messages with a single bloom or bouquet. Of course, the

more popular a flower is, the more meaning is attached to it. Roses also came into their own during

the Georgian period. New imports from China promoted breeding and cross breeding producing what is now

one of England’s favorite garden flower. A famous floral artist of the time, Pierre-Joseph Redoute,

painted hundreds of flowers during his time as court painter to Marie Antoinette and the Empress


“The arrival of this pianoforte is decisive with me.
I wanted to know a little more, and this tells me quite enough…
now I can see it in no other light than as an offering of love.”

Frank Churchill, Emma

We know that the Georgians celebrated Valentine’s Day in style. In Emma, Jane Austen has Jane

Fairfax’s surprise pianoforte arrive on Valentine’s day. Truly a splashy gift made embarrassing by a

secret engagement.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to

exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. Some of these styles are easily recreated at

home. Pinprick valentines were made by pricking tiny holes in paper with a pin to resemble the look of

lace. Similar to today’s paper snowflakes, cutout valentines were lacey looking cards made by folding

paper several times and cutting out a delicate design with small, sharp scissors. Poems and acrostic

valentines, verses in which the first letters in the lines spelled out the beloved’s name were also


By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in

printing technology. Cards decorated with black and white pictures painted by factory workers began to

be created in the early 1800s; by the end of the century, valentines were being made entirely by

machine. In the 1840’s, (soon after chocolate candy was invented) machine made, mass market valentines

became available. We must thank the Victorians for forming Valentines Day into much of what it is

today. Recent statistics show that Valentine’s day is the second most popular card sending holiday,

with 1 billion valentines mailed world wide.

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