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Jane Austen’s Music Library – Broadwood Junction in concert at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York City, October 28, 2017, with musicians Francis Liu; violin, Patrick T. Jones; fortepiano; Sarah Stone; cello and Lucy Dhegrae; mezzo soprano, by Patricia N. Saffran.

Broadwood junction2 copy

Photo courtesy of Broadwood Junction – at the square piano

The concert opened with a passage read from Jane Austen’s Emma which included the mysterious arrival of an expensive square piano, a gift from an unknown donor, to the Fairfax household that could not afford such a piano, “a very elegant looking instrument-not a grand, but a large-sized square piano-forte.” In the early 1800s, the instrument described would have been a tastefully decorated Broadwood square piano with a damper pedal and would have cost £35, or £2,408 today.

broadwood square piano

Broadwood square piano.

The musicians proceeded to explain that their own Broadwood square piano was out of commission and Patrick T. Jones would be playing on a borrowed German fortepiano. The group, which consists of alumni from Juilliard’s Historical Performance program, was formed when a Broadwood square piano from 1809 was spotted at an estate auction in Virginia, and they quickly snapped it up. Broadwood square pianos, with their quiet sound, had been mass produced for the home. Violinist Francis Liu then explained that the program would consist of Jane Austen’s own music books, some of which she copied herself in a refined readable hand from borrowed sheet music. Her music library is now on-line for the public to read at the University of Southampton, UK, website.

The first piece was George Kiallmark’s Robin Adair, Theme and Variations for Piano of the Scottish song, and with Lucy Dhegrae then singing Robin Adair.

Ignaz Pleyel’s Trio was next from 1793, originally scored for harpsichord. This was followed by Thomas Arne’s beautiful Cymon and Iphigenia, cantata for tenor originally, and instruments. In between pieces, the musicians read more passages from Jane Austen about music, from novels and letters.

Except for the popular and noisy “The Battle of Prague” by Frantisek Kotzwara, the remaining pieces by Joseph Wölfl, James Hook and several Anonymous vocal selections revealed a lack of musical development. This phenomenon was explained by Francis Liu, “This music is kitsch and entertaining. It was the music that people from good families could easily perform at home. Usually, there would be a girl with good posture at the piano singing. Rarely, a man would accompany her, perhaps on a flute, but not a violin which would have required more skill.”

It is curious that Jane Austen, one of the most sophisticated novelists of all time, would have been enamored of such simple music. When asked after the concert, Mr. Liu explained further, “In a good family, a girl couldn’t play like a professional musician. She wouldn’t have played music performed in the theaters.” That would have put her in the category of demi-monde. It was an aristocratic dictate in society that those from better families could not appear too professional. For gentlemen the exception was to be a  clergyman or an officer, such as a skilled soldier or cavalryman. Women would have been at risk of making a good marriage, a main theme in Jane Austen novels, if they revealed they had genuine musical talent.

Two lovely Jane Austen youtube selections are on YouTube-

 

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