(by guest blogger Marcela De Vivo)
Access to any kind of music during the Regency era was largely dependent on the abilities of amatuer musicians in a given household to play it on their own. There was no television or recording devices, and live music was generally limited to the cities and streets, where performers were easy to find, and the sounds of music were fairly commonplace.
However, in a household like the one Jane Austen grew up in, learning music was looked upon as a highly valuable and important aspect of life, thus every member of a family was expected to develop their skill with a particular instrument. In Austen’s case, the pianoforte was the most popular option.
So, if Austen had an iPod during that time, she would have undoubtedly had music that was played by herself and her family members recorded and kept on one of her favorite playlists. Scotch and Irish Aires were popular during her time, as well as folk music and a variety of classical composers, many of which we would recognize today.
While some of the classical composers Austen enjoyed never became household names, she enjoyed playing pieces by Haydn and Beethoven, as well as collected pieces from Piccinni, Sterkel and Steibelt. Collecting “pieces” meant you had the sheet music for these songs, therefore, if you wanted to hear them, you or a family member would have to play them on the appropriate instrument.
Since music was so heavily emphasized as an aspect of development, most people could play these songs, therefore, they became popular in a household just like music does today.
We could assume that Austen would have had a “Classical” playlist with concertos, sonatinas and various works from these and other artists of her time.
Music’s Role in Culture
Since there was no real way to listen to music aside from playing it yourself or hearing a live performance (amateur or otherwise), the culture in which Austen grew up emphasized music both in terms of a personal pursuit as well as a social event.
Even within a single family’s home, it was not unusual for an evening of free time to be spent by rolling up the carpet, pushing the furniture to sides of a room and dancing to the music being played by a friend or family member.
Likewise, at social or aristocratic gatherings, live music was always a staple of interaction. Whether it served as a background or provided tunes to dance to, live musicians were commonplace wherever there was dining or mingling.
Think of today how you almost never go into a restaurant or bar where there isn’t music playing. During the Regency era, all that music had to be delivered in a live format, so pursuing music as a profession was not only valuable, but it was encouraged from a young age.
Jane Austen’s Music
|Jane Austen's piano at Chawton|
Austen herself was a talented and enthusiastic piano player, so there’s no question that she shared her culture’s value and view of music as both an educational element and social centerpiece. If you think about it, that’s not far off from the way our society views music as well. While Austen and her family lacked the technology necessary to listen the music they loved “on-demand”, they gained in terms of their ability to enjoy and be immersed in it by learning and playing those songs on their own.