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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!


First, a reminder to Lil. You have won a copy of The Redwyck Charm. Please send your snail mail address to elena @ (no spaces). And now to my post….

I’ve been feeling down this winter, between life issues and several bouts of the flu. It’s been hard to get good blocks of writing time, which I need in order to be productive. (And yes, I’ve tried writing in small pockets of time. It always backfires on me because I get so frustrated having to stop just when the words begin to flow.)

Recently I decided to start playing piano again, because it’s something I can enjoy, even if it’s just ten or fifteen minutes. I’m not that good and never was, but since I’m playing just for myself, it doesn’t matter. What I really need is some sort of creative outlet to lift my mood on days when I can’t write.

Sometimes I envy the life of a lady of leisure, with time to perfect her music.  Maybe it would be scary to be expected to perform, but on the other hand, it would be nice to have an appreciative listener. Maybe someone like Colonel Brandon listening to Marianne Dashwood or even Darcy listening to Elizabeth, who sounds like she was a dabbler just like me.

pianoSometimes I live vicariously through my heroines. In one scene from The Incorrigible Lady Catherine, the hero catches her playing Beethoven (considered inappropriate for young ladies) when she thinks no one is around. While writing, I listened to a recording of the sonata she is playing. I could only play it in my dreams!

There was a pause. He took a few steps toward the drawing room, but stopped as he heard Miss Arndale begin to play again. This time it was a darker music, rippling and cascading, the end of each phrase accented with forceful staccato notes. Full of passion. He’d never heard anything like it before.

He peered through the threshold of the drawing room as she began another movement, slow and reflective, with an understated pathos. She looked so very lovely, her eyes half-closed, her slim body swaying ever so subtly in time with the music. He didn’t dare interrupt. He didn’t even want to breathe as he watched her silently from the shadows beyond the doorway.

The slow melody ended, and she launched into an exuberantly lively tune which sounded like the finale. Philip listened in wonder as she transitioned from a bold, intricate passage to a contrasting theme as tender as a love song. He saw the flush of concentration on her face as she returned to the earlier bold theme, her look of exultation as she drove out the final notes, rising, mounting to a glorious final chord.

A critique partner said she was expecting Catherine to smoke a cigarette at this point, which I took as a compliment.

Do any of you enjoy making music, amateur or otherwise?  Do you enjoy musical heroes or heroines?


P.S. The painting is by Edmund Blair Leighton.

Posted in Music, Regency, Writing | Tagged , | 6 Replies

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?


I recently went on an online shopping spree with a gift certificate that included buying things I had not received for Christmas and, as is the way, things I didn’t know I wanted until I found them. Last night, while I was wondering what I’d blog about, I listened for the first time to this CD of soprano Julianne Baird and other artists singing music from Austen’s collection. Because sheet music was so expensive (we know she paid six shillings for a book of piano music), many of the pieces were copied by hand from music Austen borrowed from friends or circulating libraries. Her music books include instructions for playing or singing, and in one song, replaced the word soldier with that of sailor, reflecting her loyalty to the Royal Navy.

Baird has a wonderful intimacy to her delivery and the collection of music is extraordinary, including opera arias by Handel and Gluck, songs by Stephen Storace the London theater impresario, and a song arranged by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire to words by Sheridan. This isn’t the only collection from Austen’s music books–I was tempted by one recorded in Chawton Cottage, but according to one review, the sound quality is poor.

As we all know, music was an important part of a Regency lady’s life. Here are some instructions on drawing room performance from an 1813 fashion and how-to book for gentlewomen, Mirror of the Graces:

What has been said in behalf of simple and appropriate dancing, may also be whispered in the ear of the fair practitioner in music; and, by analogy, she may not unbeneficially, apply the suggestions to her own case.

There are many young women, who, when they sit down to the piano or the harp, or to sing, twist themselves into so many contort lions, and writhe their bodies and faces about into such actions and grimaces, as would almost incline one to believe that they are suffering under the torture of the toothach or the gout. Their bosoms heave, their shoulders sill-up, their heads swing to the right and left, their lips quiver, their eyes roll; they sigh, they pant, they seem ready to expire ! And what is all this about? They are merely playing a favourite concerto, or singing a new Italian song.

If it were possible for these conceit-intoxicated warblers, these languishing dolls, to guesa what rational spectators say of their follies they would be ready to break their instruments and be dumb forever. What they call expression in singing, at the rate they would show it, is only fit to be exhibited on the stage, when the character of the song intends to portray the utmost ecstacy of passion to a sighing swain. In short, such an echo to the words and music of a love ditty is very improper in any young woman who would wish to be thought as pure in heart as in person. If amatory addresses are to be sung, let the expression be in the voice and the composition of the air, not in the; looks and gestures of the lady singer. The utmost that she ought to allow herself to do, when thus breathing out the accents of love, is to wear a serious, tender countenance. More than this is bad, and may produce reflections in the minds of the hearers very inimical to the reputation of the fair warbler.

This is the piano in Chawton Cottage which probably wasn’t Austen’s. We do know that it’s a Clementi (the composer, in residence in London, had a piano and print music business) from the first decade of the nineteenth century. Occasionally musician visitors are allowed to play it. It’s a square piano, the instrument that became affordable to the middle classes and invited a whole slew of women to simulate orgasms in public. Which brings me to my next self-inflicted gift, Mr. Langshaw’s Square Piano: The Story of the First Pianos and how they caused a Cultural Revolution by Madeline Goold. I started reading this last night, and it’s a wonderful account of how Ms. Goold bought a square piano, had it restored, and researched the history of the instrument. It was made by the Broadwood Company, which made pianos well into the 20th century, and whose records are still in existence. You can read more about the book, the restoration process and hear soundbites at

What Broadwood did was to produce a piano that was compact and affordable, with a base price of 24 guineas, that were shipped all over England and worldwide. When Lady Catherine de Bourgh invites Elizabeth to practice at Rosings, she refers her to the square piano in the housekeeper’s room, not the grand piano in the drawing room. Jane Fairfax’s piano is a square piano, according to Ms. Goold (aha! yet another excuse to re-read Emma) a dead giveaway that it was a gift from someone who knew the dimensions of the Bates’ parlor and not Colonel Campbell. Knightley still complains that it’s too big, though, which gives us a good impression of how low the Bates family had sunk.

Do you play the piano or would you like to learn? What sort of music do you like to listen to, if any, while you read or write?

And in other news, Improper Relations (February 2010) has its first review at Beyond Her Book:

What I continue to love about Janet Mullany’s books is how she manages to convincingly tell her story in first person from both her hero and her heroine’s perspective. The first person narrative gives an extremely refreshing take on the insanity which populates the plot; from the way her heroine observes the foibles of her own family, to the slowly beautiful dance it takes the hero to discover he’s in love. I can’t wait to see where she goes next.

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