On October 20, the New Jersey Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America sponsored a wonderful program on the music of Jane Austen’s time, presented by period music duo The Practitioners of Musick. The program took place at the public library in Plainsboro.
In an illustrated lecture, recorder and flute player John Burkhalter took us on a tour of the 19th-century world that shaped the Austen family’s musical experiences. He focused especially on the resort town of Bath, the epitome of luxury and entertainment, with its own social conventions and accepted modes of courtesy and conduct. In Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, Austen uses Bath as a dramatic backdrop for encounters between her heroines and more worldly families. As Burkhalter noted, Jane Austen paints a clear picture of the level of musical talent expected of ladies: just enough, but not too much. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, Elizabeth displays only a moderate degree of musical accomplishment; Emma Woodhouse plays and sings, but lacks true discipline.
After Burkhalter’s presentation, he and harpsichordist Donovan Klotzbeacher performed more than a dozen short pieces from the Austen family’s musical archives, including works by Purcell and Handel, several dance tunes, and the Irish song “Robin Adair,” the only piece identified by name in Austen’s novels. (Jane Fairfax plays it in Emma.)
Even Mrs. Elton, who planned to give up music once she married, or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who never took it up in the first place, would have been diverted by the beautiful and instructive program.
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