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It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen enjoyed music. She played the piano every day, compiled her own albums of sheet music, and danced when others played. And music plays an important role in her novels and movie adaptations of her books.
'Without music,' Jane Austen wrote in 'Emma', 'life would be a blank to me.' Like many women of her time, the writer was also a skilled musician; so are many of the female characters in her novels. More often than not, they play the piano - as Jane Austen did herself.
There’s probably no better adaptation of Jane Austen on film than Ang Lee’s 'Sense and Sensibility', which was adapted by - and starred - Emma Thompson. And there’s no better Jane Austen soundtrack than Patrick Doyle’s Oscar-nominated Mozartian-style score featuring delicate piano solos.
The once popular Johann Baptist Cramer (1771-1858) is the only real composer whose name is mentioned in any of Jane Austen's novels. Some of Cramer's music was owned by the character Jane Fairfax in 'Emma'. After the arrival of her new Broadwood piano, Fairfax also plays the tune 'Robin Adair'; Jane Austen had several versions of this song in her collection.
For her soundtrack to the 1996 screen version of Jane Austen's 'Emma' starring Gwyneth Paltrow, English composer Rachel Portman produced a whimsical but romantic score which won her an Academy Award in 1997. She was the first woman ever to win an Oscar for composing an original movie score. Jane Austen would have been proud.
In the 1995 television adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice', Elizabeth Bennet sings ‘Voi Che Sapete’ from Mozart’s 'The Marriage of Figaro'… only it wasn't Jennifer Ehle singing, it was our very own Catherine Bott, presenter of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Classical Music and The Full Works Concert.
Colin Firth as Mr Darcy after *that* lake scene with Elizabeth Bennet (played by Jennifer Ehle). Other classical pieces featured in the 1995 TV adaptation included Handel's Air con Variazioni from Suite No. 5 in E Major and 'Slumber, Dear Maid' from his opera, 'Xerxes', and the second movement from Clementi's Sonatina No.4. Picture: Rex
Austen’s own musical tastes tended towards the popular songs of her era. She played country dances to keep her nephews and nieces entertained, and particularly enjoyed the music of the Austrian-born French composer, Ignaz Pleyel (pictured). Fourteen of his sonatinas can be found in Austen's own personal collection of sheet music.
Jane Austen had piano lessons until she was 21, studying with George Chard - an organist from Winchester Cathedral (pictured). She was a keen player and practiced daily before breakfast so as not to interrupt the daily routines of her family.
Eight volumes of Jane Austen’s own collections of sheet music are still in existence today, two of which are written out in her own handwriting. Her albums also include songs by Handel and English composers of the day, as well as instrumental pieces by Corelli, Gluck, and Johann Christian Bach. ‘Che Faro’ from Gluck’s opera 'Orfeo ed Euridice' was another of her favourites.
For the 2007 movie about Jane Austen's early life, 'Becoming Jane' - starring Anne Hathaway - composer Adrian Johnston reviewed the Austen family's music books to inspire his own soundtrack. It also features 'Deh vieni, non tardar' from Mozart's 'The Marriage of Figaro'. The soundtrack received a nomination for Best Original Film Score at the 2008 Ivor Novello Awards.
For his 2005 film version of 'Pride and Prejudice', director Joe Wright asked composer Dario Marianelli to write original music that would sound like pieces Jane Austen herself might have listened to or played. Marianelli also mixed extracts of the music of Henry Purcell into his score. The piano parts were played by the brilliant Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
The character Anne Elliot in Jane Austen's 'Persuasion' plays the piano well but ‘having no voice, no knowledge of the harp and no fond parents to sit by and fancy themselves delighted, her performance was little thought of’. For the 1995 film version of 'Persuasion' - starring Amanda Root as Anne - soundtrack composer Jeremy Sams incorporated Chopin preludes and two Sarabandes by J.S. Bach into his exquisite score.
'Of music! Then pray speak aloud,' wrote Jane Austen in 'Pride and Prejudice'. 'It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.'