One of the items in my Second Anniversary Give-away ( which will be drawn on Sunday- so if you haven’t yet added your comment to the post, may I encourage you to do so if you’d like a chance of winning the prize) is a newly released CD of music from the Austen family’s manuscript music books.

Entertaining Miss Austen is the fruit of the labours of Professor David Norris of Southampton University, where he is Professor of Performance. You may however be more familiar with his work from the enjoyable historical iPod series of programmes on BBC Radio 4. In the first series we  heard the supposed contents of Jane Austen’s iPod, and even the imagined content of the iPod which Emma Hamilton might have owned.

The new CD features music from the eight manuscript music books that were Jane Austen’s property.

This is one of them, open at the Duke of York’s March, which is an arrangement of  Non pui andrai from TheMarriage of Figaro by Mozart. These books  are part of the  Jane Austen’s House Museum’s  collection in Chawton. But in addition, the CD contains  a selection of music from a further nine music albums which were owned by various female relations of Jane Austen. For years they have been held in private collections but they are now  held by the Chawton House Library. As Jeanice Brooks and Samantha Carrasco write on the Southampton University website:

These pieces are drawn from 17 music albums that belonged to Jane Austen and her female relations. Like many similar collections associated with gentry families of the period, this is a heterogenous set, including compilations of printed sheet music, manuscript albums copied into pre-ruled music books, compilations of separately copied manuscripts, and scrapbooks mixing print and manuscript items.

At least seven women from Jane Austen’s close family owned or copied music in the collection. Austen herself was responsible for a large portion, as was her sister-in-law Elizabeth Bridges, wife of Jane’s older brother Edward Austen Knight. One manuscript copied by Elizabeth was bound for her in August 1799, around the time when Jane herself spent many hours in music copying, an activity which apparently led to some teasing from her sister-in-law: in January 1799, Jane wrote to Cassandra, ‘Elizabeth is very cruel about my writing Music; – and as a punishment for her, I should insist upon always writing out all hers for her in future, if I were not punishing myself at the same time’.

Jane’s mother Cassandra Leigh, sister Cassandra, sisters-in-law Eliza de Feuillide and Eleanor Jackson (first and second wives of her brother Henry), and niece Fanny Knight also contributed material to the Austen collection. A few items (and in one case, most of a manuscript) came into the Austen family’s possession through more distant relationships: for example, from Ann Cawley, née Cooper, the sister of their uncle Cooper on their mother’s side, to whom Jane and Cassandra were sent for schooling in 1783; or from Mrs Henry Jackson, Eleanor Jackson’s mother. Several of the books were started by one family member and continued or used by another; many bring together several copyists’ hands or collectors’ signatures within a single binding. As a set, they are a rich illustration of family ties that domestic music-making and its material culture helped to sustain.

Music was an important part of Jane Austen’s life. She managed to scrape money together from a legacy from Mrs Lillingston a family friend, to have a pianoforte in Bath to replace her piano which had been sold when she and her parents left her childhood home at Steventon. Later, she played on her piano every morning at their Chawton cottage, and probably used this time as thinking time.  Cassandra and Mrs Austen arranged their domestic route at Chawton around her, so it must have been important time for her and her imagination. Her letters are peppered with many references to music and playing, and of course, she used  the love of music very effectively in her novels, often using it to represent a female character’s passionate nature.

The whole collection is now being studied as part of a major research project  undertaken by Professor Jeanice Brooks again of Southampton University. Samantha Carrrasco, the pianist, is basing a thesis on the Austen books. Exciting times.

The CD was recorded at Hatchlands, above, a National Trust property in Surrey ,which also houses the famed Cobbe Collection of Keyboard Instruments. The pieces were played by David Norris on an 1817 Broadwood Grand Piano. Jane Fairfax, you will recall is given an unexpected present of a Broadwood piano from her secret fiancé, Frank Churchill,in Emma:

That very dear part of Emma, her fancy, received an amusing supply. Mrs. Cole was telling that she had been calling on Miss Bates, and as soon as she entered the room had been struck by the sight of a pianoforté — a very elegant looking instrument — not a grand, but a large-sized square pianoforté; and the substance of the story, the end of all the dialogue which ensued of surprize, and inquiry, and congratulations on her side, and explanations on Miss Bates’s, was, that this pianoforté had arrived from Broadwood’s the day before, to the great astonishment of both aunt and niece — entirely unexpected; that at first, by Miss Bates’s account, Jane herself was quite at a loss, quite bewildered to think who could possibly have ordered it — but now, they were both perfectly satisfied that it could be from only one quarter; — of course it must be from Col. Campbell.
Chapter 26

This particular piano has an additional link to Emma; it is signed and was owned by the composer, Johan Baptist Cramer. He is the only composer Jane Austen referred to by name in Emma:

“Here is something quite new to me. Do you know it? Cramer. And here are a new set of Irish melodies. That, from such a quarter, one might expect. This was all sent with the instrument. Very thoughtful of Col. Campbell, was not it? He knew Miss Fairfax could have no music here. I honour that part of the attention particularly; it shews it to have been so thoroughly from the heart. Nothing hastily done; nothing incomplete. True affection only could have prompted it.”
Chapter 28

The selection on this CD is fascinating.It includes a performance of  the song, Robin Adair, by Kiallmark of Kings Lynn. In Emma Frank Churchill mischievously claims the song is Mr Dixon’s favourite as he and poor duped Emma listen to Jane Fairfax playing it in the Bates’ small apartment. It is, of course, a coded message of love to Miss Fairfax, to whom he is secretly engaged, for part of the lyrics to the song read:

Yet he loved so well
Still in my heart shall dwell
Oh I can ne’er forget
Robin Adiar

The CD contains three songs which Caroline Austen, Jane Austen’s niece,  said were her aunts most particular favourites. The first is Que j’aime à voir les hirondelles,which is the song Caroline remembered her aunt singing the most. The other two songs were  Songs from Burns, and The Wife’s Farwell .  Also included on the CD are songs with lyrics by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire,and the playwright, Richard Sheridan. He famously adored Pride and Prejudice even though he  was unaware of it’s author’s identity.

The songs are sung by the soprano, Amanda Pitt and the baritone, John Lofthouse. I really like this CD, and think it is heads and shoulders above the other Jane Austen music CDs that I have in my collection. My only criticism is that in only a few instances is attribution made regarding the particular album from which the songs originate. This is a little confusing to my poor brain. Adding this information to all the songs on the CD sleeve  would have been fascinating and helpful.

You can download the lyrics and some notes to the songs here. The CD is available from the publisher, Duttons and on Amazon.  As someone who finds extending listening to the “bare” sound of early pianos rather trying, low be it spoken, I think it says a lot for the running order of this CD and the performances on it that I can happily listen to it without pause.

I can cheerfully recommend this CD to you. I look forward to more exciting finds, books and CDs when the research undertaken by the University of Southampton is completed.