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I love old and unusual (pre-commercial-madness) holiday music. This season I spent some time prowling around Youtube and found some traditional renditions of favorites, and also some interesting reinterpretations.

The Coventry Carol deals with the Massacre of the Innocents, when Herod ordered the execution of male children under the age of two in Bethlehem, an often forgotten part of Christmas story. To me, it is a necessary counterbalance to some of the forced jollity of the season, a reminder that while many of us are celebrating, there are those who suffer who deserve our compassion.

This is King’s College Cambridge’s traditional rendition of the Coventry Carol.

Here’s a modern version composed by Kenneth Leighton, using the original words. Some commenters didn’t like the change but I find it captured the solemn subject beautifully. The young soloist is fantastic.

I’ve also loved “Gaudete”. Here’s a version by Anúna. Don’t you love their costumes?

And here’s a version described as a “post industrial groove anthem”, from the men’s choir of Milliken University.

What do you think of these pieces? Do you enjoy their modern reincarnations?

Happy Boxing Day!


Since Amanda is busy moving (hope it’s all going well, Amanda!) I promised to switch days with her. And promptly forgot, in the havoc of getting back from the New Jersey Romance Writers conference and trying to get the family and household back on track!

BroadwoodpianoAnyway, I’m here now. Back in the summer, I had the chance to visit the vast and wonderful Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There were many highlights to the visit, but an unexpected one was their varied collection of musical instruments. I’ve been meaning to blog about it ever since, but it went onto the back burner as I was finishing Fly with a Rogue and taking my oldest on college visits.

One of the most striking pieces in the collection is this superb grand piano. It was made in 1796 by John Broadwood & Sons for Manual de Godoy, ambassador to King Carlos IV of Spain. The decoration was designed by Thomas Sheraton and the jasperware cameos are by Josiah Wedgewood. I took some pictures of the details. Apologies for the fuzziness, but you can get an idea anyway.














This is certainly the sort of instrument one could imagine in the house of one of our fictional dukes.

squarepianoAt the other end of the room, there was this square piano, made around 1770 in England by Johann Christoph Zume and Gabriel Buntebart. At about 5 octaves, this was the first type of piano to be commercially successful and became very popular. A vicar’s daughter type heroine could have afforded to play a piano like this one.

Here is Vladimir Pleshakov playing Bonifacio Asioli’s 1795 Sonata on a 1795 Broadwood grand. According to the comments, the pianoforte pictured is actually of a later date, unfortunately.

Next week I’ll post about some of the more esoteric instruments in the collection.

Can any of you picture yourselves playing these instruments? I can–in my Regency fantasies!


How I’d love to see that sentence in a regency. Since music was such a major part of Jane Austen’s life–and that of her heroines–I thought I’d blog about that today, as we recover from the rigors and excitement of our contest (congratulations, winners!). Some soothing piano music might help, too.

Jane Austen’s music books–copied by hand–are at her house in Chawton, Hants, as is her piano (left), made in 1810 by the composer Clementi, who owned one of the major piano manufacturers in London. One of Clementi’s rivals was the firm of John Broadwood & Sons, still in business, and serving as providers of pianos to royalty ever since George II’s time. The gorgeous instrument above was made by Zumpt & Buntebant of London and taken by Johann Christian Bach (son of the great J.S.) when he and the young Mozart visited France in 1778.

Jane’s favorites included Clementi, Haydn and lesser-known composers Pleyel, Eichner and Piccini. Here’s a recollection from her niece Caroline:

Aunt Jane began her day with music – for which I conclude she had a natural taste; as she thus kept it up – ‘tho she had no one to teach; was never induced (as I have heard) to play in company; and none of her family cared much for it. I suppose that she might not trouble them, she chose her practising time before breakfast – when she could have the room to herself – She practised regularly every morning – She played very pretty tunes, I thought – and I liked to stand by her and listen to them; but the music (for I knew the books well in after years) would now be thought disgracefully easy – Much that she played from was manuscript, copied out by herself – and so neatly and correctly, that it was as easy to read as print.

Jane’s piano is a square fortepiano–the term used for early pianos. The great technological breakthrough of the piano (or whatever you want to call it!) is that unlike its predecessor the harpsichord it offered dynamic control–hence it’s name, Italian for loud-soft, and used a hammer action, not a plucking action, on the strings. Fortepianos were first produced in the mid-eighteenth century and were built entirely of wood (modern pianos are held together with a large steel band to hold in the formidable tension of the strings), and have a more delicate, subtle sound than modern pianos. To hear the instrument go to this recording of Mozart and Schubert on amazon, where you can listen to excerpts. The artist is Melvyn Tan, who performed the fortepiano music heard on the movie Persuasion.

Here are a couple more recordings available from the Jane Austen Museum in Bath. A Very Innocent Diversion features selections from Jane Austen’s music collection while the other features music from Jane Austen’s time performed in Bath.

Would music–daily piano practice– feature in your Regency fantasy or nightmare? Or, like Mrs. Elton, would you gratefully become a talker (although not totally devoid of taste, of course) and not a practitioner once you succumbed to the rigors of married life? And as (Cara, I think?) said, it might be interesting to see how truly accomplished those young ladies were…hopefully none of us would be like Mary Bennett, plucked from the keyboard by her embarrassed papa. And do you think that if you were magically transported back to Regency times, you might miss being able to summon music at the push of a button, or do you think the comparative rarity of a live performance (a good one, that is) might heighten your appreciation?


Last week my daughter volunteered at a summer program called Girls Rock. This is a terrific program for girls ages 8 to 18 where the goal is teaching self-confidence, empowerment, leadership, and team-building, all through teaching the girls how to play in their very own rock ‘n roll bands. Saturday was the culmination, a rock concert. The girls performed before, an enthusiastic crowd of friends, family, and my dh and me!

Eleven acts performed. Two were girl djs but the rest were “bands” who each performed songs that the girls had written themselves under the guidance of volunteers like my daughter. One of the popular rock ‘n roll venues in Washington, DC, the 9:30 Club, donated the space, so the girls could really feel like rock stars. It was a great, positive experience for all. As you can see by the photo.
So I got to wondering…What was the equivalent in the Regency era?
Most aristocratic young ladies learned to play music, perhaps on the pianoforte or, like one of the Musgrove girls in Persuasion, the harp. And like Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice, they might be asked to perform at dinner parties and for the family.
I could conceive of a young peoples party where the young ladies, and perhaps some young gentlemen, as well, gather around the pianoforte and sing popular songs of the day. Or a family entertaining themselves in the evening in the same way.
I’m reasonably certain that learning to perform music in the Regency was not an exercise in self-empowerment or leadership, but very well might have been confidence and team-building.
In my fantasies, if I wasn’t a romance novelist, I’d love to be a torch singer in an upscale piano bar in New York City. In reality, I did perform in the chorus in musicals in community theater as a teenager. I even sang Pony Boy in my high school senior play.
I think there is something about performing music that is special. And I have to think that is true in any era.
What do you think?
Did you ever perform music? Did you feel special doing it?
Mariel Covendale in A Not So Respectable Gentleman? attends a musicale….I’m just saying. The book is out now!
Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged | 8 Replies

I hope everyone is ready for the Thanksgiving holiday this week! I–well, I am not, but then the holidays always have a way of sneaking up on me. I am going to the shops today to stock up on groceries and do a little preliminary Christmas shopping, and then will spend the rest of the week eating turkey leftovers and arguing with my family (in a fun way of course, LOL!).

In the meantime, what went on in history on November 22? Lots of good things, it turns out:

Henry Purcell (one of my favorite composers) had a premier in London, of a piece called “Welcome to all the pleasures” (apropos for the holidays!)

Benjamin Britten was born in 1913

Man of La Mancha had its premier in 1965

And one of my favorite authors, George Eliot, was born in 1819. Let’s take the opportunity to look at Rufus Sewell, one reason to really be thankful this year!

And if you have company the day after Thanksgiving and they are still hungry, my friend swears by this French bread casserole recipe from Paula Deen:


  • 1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)
  • Butter, for pan
  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Dash salt
  • Praline Topping, recipe follows
  • Raspberry Syrup, recipe follows


Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch thick each. (Use any extra bread for garlic toast or bread crumbs). Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 45 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Serve with Raspberry Syrup.

Praline Topping:

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Spread over bread as directed above.

Raspberry Syrup:

1 cup raspberry preserves

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons raspberry liqueur (recommended: Framboise)

Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir until warm and thinned out like syrup.

How is your holiday week going? Heard any good music or made any good recipes??

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Replies
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