Jane Austen played the piano too; the family had a Stodart square piano, similar to the 200 year-old Clementi piano in the cottage museum that I was able to play. Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) was an all-round music entrepreneur, moving from performing and composing to teaching, editing and ultimately making money in the manufacture and development of the piano. On his instrument, the octave range is much smaller than today's - just five and a half octaves. The touch and quality of sound is delicate - quasi harpsichord. It would have provided some inspiration as well as being a diversion from her many hours of writing on the mahogany table that is also to be found in the house.
Her niece, Caroline Austen, wrote:
"Aunt Jane began her day with music...she chose her practising time before breakfast..."
from 'My Aunt Jane', 1867, publ Jane Austen Soc.
The music available to her at the time would have been dances and salon pieces for evening get-togethers, and intimate sonatinas by composers such as Pleyel. Arne, Haydn or Handel would also have been popular composers.
Music plays an important role in Austen's works, exhibiting as it does the level of accomplishment to which young ladies from the 'middle and upper' classes aspired. To be able to enjoy music like this, one would have to be in a position where education, time and money were available. Music was expensive to buy. If someone heard a piece they liked, they might have written it out by hand for later use.
Austen's heroines are depicted as accomplished performers. Like the rest of us, however, their levels of expertise and styles are just as variable. Elizabeth Bennet's playing is "pleasing though by no means capital", while her sister Mary shows "neither genius nor taste" and has "a pedantic air and conceited manner". Anyone who saw the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice will have seen these qualities dramatized in abundance. Darcy's sister Georgiana practises "very constantly" according to him and he is devoted to her music education. In Emma, Jane Fairfax is described as "very superior" to Emma Woodhouse.
There's a sense of elegance, refinement and simplicity when playing Clementi on a Clementi. If you love Austen and if you love music, do visit her house in Chawton. There's also a wonderful tea-room, called Cassandra's Cup (after her sister) just across the road!
More information available at: www.janeausten.co.uk