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During my last visit to Jane Austen House Museum, I was lucky enough to have  the place to myself, which gave me ample time to ponder the wonder that is her set of manuscript music books, one of which was on show.

I am only an amateur musician and play the piano very badly indeed, but have transcribed enough pieces by hand  during my music studies to know that Jane Austen’s transcribing gifts were great indeed.

As you can see from the photograph I took of  the book that was available to see, her musical notation is clear , neat and very beautiful. And of course this habit of transcribing was born of necessity, as sheet music was expensive to buy.

I thought you might like to know of two related on-going academic projects that are currently studying Jane Austen’s music collection.

The Australian soprano Gillian Dooley, who is also Honorary Research Fellow at Flinders University, has been transcribing and publishing online in pdf. form much of Jane Austen’s music that is in the collection of the Jane Austen Memorial Trust at the Jane Austen’s House Museum, or is in the collection of the Hampshire Record Office or the Chawton House Library, which currently holds the Jenkyns collection.

The collection is available to view  here. Pieces will be added to the site gradually.

As Gillian Dooley writes on the Flinders University website:

Most transcripts were made during a research trip to England in September-October 2010. Transcripts were made only from manuscript sources, and only when print versions of a manuscript were not available elsewhere. When the music in the collections was a printed score, a copy was requested.

Some transcripts were made previously from music sourced elsewhere and performed in earlier concerts. In these cases, the versions provided were checked against the versions in the Austen Music collections and any differences noted on the scores. Concert programs are also available as part of this Collection in the Flinders Academic Commons.

A major research project at Southampton University, led by Professor Jeanice Brooks, is studying these collections and their place in the wider musical culture of the period, and I am looking forward to reading the results of their research when it is published.

I have just spent a very happy and absorbing hour looking at the 35 pieces that are available to view, including the songs Here’s the Bower She Loved So Much by Thomas Moore and Queen Mary’s Lamentation by Tommaso Giordani, a song all about Mary Queen of Scots, one of Jane Austen’s heroines, lamenting her imprisonment in England.

I’m sure the musically minded amongst you will enjoy looking through these pieces too.

To conclude the series of posts about the life of Jane Austen in Bath I thought I would lighten the mood by ending with  some details of the music, the type of fireworks and illuminations Jane Austen would have seen and heard at the galas she attended at the Sydney Gardens.

In her letter to Cassandra dated 19th June 1799 , written while Jane Austen was staying in Bath with her brother Edward and his family in Queen’s Square, she recorded her impressions of one such event:

Last night we were in Sidney Gardens(sic) again as there was a repetition of the Gala which went off so ill on the 4th–  We did not go till nine and then were in very good time for the Fire-Works which were  really beautiful and surpassing my expectations- the illuminations too were very pretty.

The Sydney Gardens usually held three Gala Evenings each season: one on the 4th June to celebrate King George III’s Birthday; one on the 12th August to celebrate the Prince of Wales birthday and another in July- a moveable feast – to coincide  with the Summer Horse Race Meeting at Bath.

The fireworks to celebrate the Kings Birthday on the  4th June-which went off so ill-were postponed due to bad weather.  They were rescheduled for the 18th June and that is the evening Jane Austen attended.

Here is an advertisement from the Bath Chronicle  giving details of the re- scheduled date:

( If you care to you can click on the illustration above to enlarge it, so that you can read the detail)

The gardens opened for the Gala at 5p.m. The food and drink available included :

cold ham, chicken, lamb, and tongue, wine, spirits, bottled porter, cider, perry all as reasonable as possible the prices of which will be affixed on the bills of fare and placed in every conspicuous part of the Garden.

The reason the prices were so conspicuously affixed throughout the gardens was  that this system  prevented the waiters overcharging, a problem that was prevalent in the London pleasure gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh.

You could eat in the Banqueting Room in the Sydney Gardens Tavern or in the canvas booths outside.

If you look carefully at the engraving above, (do enlarge it !) you can see people sitting in the booths to the right of the picture.  Those eating in the outdoor booths did have the option of staying in them the whole evening, and I would imagine on a chilly English summer’s evening this would have been a very tempting proposition!

The concert began at 7p.m. Note that Jane Austen managed to avoid it by arriving at 9p.m The galas generally went on till 10 p.m. which meant that  Jane Austen was only there for one hour, probably only to see the illuminations and the fireworks!

She appears to have disliked the music played there, for she made this caustic comment in her letter to Cassandra of the 2nd June 1799, when writing of the planned visit to the original gala:

There is to be a grand gala on Tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens-A concert with Illuminations and Fireworks; to the latter Elizabeth and I look forward with pleasure, and even the concert will have more than its usual charm with me, as the Gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.

I would have thought that Bath with its rich orchestral and musical tradition-The Linley family begin just one example of the musicians attracted to living and working in Bath- had fine music and orchestras.

One of the musicians mentioned in the advertisement was Alexander Herscel,the violoncello playing brother  of William Herscel composer and amateur astronomer, who was appointed court astronomer to George III  in 1782  a year after he had discovered the planet Uranus.

He was the first person to accurately and correctly describe the Milky Way and  found two new satellite of Saturn in 1789.  Caroline Herscel in her Memoirs described her brother’s  playing on the violoncello as “divine”… dare we suggest she may have been biased?

Another performer  at the gala was  a Miss Richardson, a singer: she had performed at Vauxhall Gardens in London but this diary entry by John Waldie of Edinburgh from 1805 seems to hint she may have been,well,… not the  best singer in the world:

While the Minstrels were playing their weary staccato harmony all on one key I addressed myself to Mr Elliot, the singer, and we soon entered into conversation, which was to me highly entertaining and useful…We also discussed the merits of all the singers and composers. He agreed with me I thinking Braham, Harrison, Bartleman, Viganoni Mrs Billington, Mara, Banti ,Mrs Mountain and Storace the phalanx of vocal talent in the country.

He also much admires Grassini and Mrs. Tennant who I have not heard. Miss Daniel Miss Parke and Mrs Ashe are only second rate, and also Miss Sharpe and Miss Richardson

(See: The Journal of John Waldie Theatre Commentaries, 1799-1830: no. 13 [Journal 10] May 14, 1804-March 12, 1805)

Poor Miss Richardson…. I’m quite fascinated by Jane Austen’s comment and deliberate avoidance of the concert. I wonder what it was about the music that so irritated her apart from the possibility of them not being the best rate performances ? Did she not like  professional singers ? She made a similar comment about a performance of Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes in her letter to Cassandra of 5th March 1814:

I daresay “Artaxerxes” will be very tiresome.

and later…after the performance

I was very tired of “Artaxerxes,” highly amused with the farce, and, in an inferior way, with the pantomime that followed. Mr. J. Plumptre joined in the latter part of the evening, walked home with us, ate some soup, and is very earnest for our going to Covent Garden again to-night to see Miss Stephens in the “Farmer’s Wife.” He is to try for a box. I do not particularly wish him to succeed. I have had enough for the present.

We shall in all probability never know what upset her so much…..?

Next post: Fireworks.

No, not a technological impossibility…but a BBC Radio 4 Programme, which I think listeners both in and outside the UK can listen to, if you click on this link to the BBC here for the next six days only. The BBC’s New Year present to Janeites all ;-) This  programme  appeared yesterday,and for a while it appeared it was not going to be available to people to “listen again” but that decision appears to have  been altered to the good.

I’ve been looking forward to it for some weeks since I heard about it being made.

It’s a rather jolly programme about nine books of manuscript music newly rediscovered (the property of her descendant Richard Jenkyns)and all transposed by Jane Austen’s hand .They are now on loan to the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton(where the programme was recorded) and Southampton University is studying them. Commentary on the whole process of the era’s music making, balls, musical theatre etc is provided by Deirdre le Faye .

Why did Jane Austen like Scotch airs? Did she compose some of the music ? How did she get hold of music?What was her taste in music ? What sort of Aunt was she( nursery rhymes are included in her collection) All is revealed in this 30 minute programme.

I do hope you like it.

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