Jane Austen’s Music Collection, Now Digitized and Available Online

Austen Music 1

“What real­ly mat­ters is what you like, not what you are like,” says the nar­ra­tor of Nick Horn­by’s High Fideli­ty. “It’s no good pre­tend­ing that any rela­tion­ship has a future if your record col­lec­tions dis­agree vio­lent­ly.” That mas­ter Eng­lish social nov­el­ist of the late 20th cen­tu­ry made a point with which Jane Austen, the mas­ter Eng­lish social nov­el­ist in the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, may well have agreed. Horn­by, like his char­ac­ter, loves and col­lects music, even into this 21st cen­tu­ry when the very def­i­n­i­tion of a music col­lec­tion has expand­ed into unrec­og­niz­abil­i­ty. Jane Austen did as well, though col­lect­ing music in her day meant some­thing else again: col­lect­ing sheet music.

“The Pride and Prej­u­dice author, who also played piano and sang, copied music by hand into per­son­al albums and col­lect­ed sheet music,” says the BBC about Austen’s per­son­al music col­lec­tion, part of the Austen fam­i­ly music library now dig­i­tized by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Southamp­ton’s Hart­ley Library and made avail­able at the Inter­net Archive. The arti­cle quotes project leader and pro­fes­sor of music Jean­ice Brooks as say­ing these 18 albums of music (the bound kind, not the kind over which High Fideli­ty’s Lon­don thir­tysome­things obsess) could not just help explain the “musi­cal envi­ron­ment that fed the nov­el­ist’s imag­i­na­tion” and led to nov­els “full of musi­cal scenes,” but pro­vide a “unique glimpse of the musi­cal life of an extend­ed gen­try fam­i­ly in the years around 1800.”

Austen Music 2

If, as a uni­ver­si­ty spokesman says, a 19th-cen­tu­ry sheet music col­lec­tion reflects the per­son­al­i­ty of its own­er “just as a dig­i­tal music col­lec­tion on a mobile phone or MP3 device would today,” what does Jane Austen’s say about her? The items in the col­lec­tion iden­ti­fied as belong­ing to Austen her­self include one vol­ume con­tain­ing “two songs from Dalayrac’s Les deux Savo­yards, one song, and the ‘Sav­age Dance,’ ” anoth­er con­tain­ing “Juve­nile Songs & Lessons” for “for young begin­ners who don’t know enough to prac­tise,” and anoth­er, accord­ing to the BBC, con­tain­ing “the tra­di­tion­al Welsh song Nos Galan, bet­ter known today as Christ­mas song ‘Deck the Halls.’ ”

Not quite a does-she-like-the-Bea­t­les-or-does-she-like-the-Stones sit­u­a­tion, cer­tain­ly. But Inter­net Archive allows you to flip at your leisure through these albums, all of them once kept in the Austen fam­i­ly home and some or all once han­dled by Austen her­self, which ought to pro­vide a sat­is­fac­tion for many of the count­less fans always seek­ing to get a lit­tle clos­er to the writer whose books they’ve read and reread so enjoy­ably. Some of them have no doubt drawn the inspi­ra­tion from her work to start writ­ing them­selves, com­pos­ing sto­ries in her style. Those who go so far as to copy out pieces of her beloved prose in their own hand, can now try not just writ­ing the words she wrote, but play­ing the notes she played as well.

via Austin Kleon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Jane Austen

15-Year-Old Jane Austen Writes a Satir­i­cal His­to­ry Of Eng­land: Read the Hand­writ­ten Man­u­script Online (1791)

Jane Austen Used Pins to Edit Her Aban­doned Man­u­script, The Wat­sons

Jane Austen Writes a Let­ter to Her Sis­ter While Hung Over: “I Believe I Drank Too Much Wine Last Night”

Down­load the Major Works of Jane Austen as Free eBooks & Audio Books

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Jonathan Walford says:

    So the music Jane Austen actu­al­ly played and lis­tened to, and for which there are sur­viv­ing man­u­scripts has not been record­ed by any­one? I think it might be a prof­itable com­mer­cial ven­ture for some­one to take that on…

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