Austen's musical persuasion

February 2, 1996

Music collected and transcribed by author Jane Austen two centuries ago has been revived for modern day concerts thanks to work by a Surrey University lecturer.

Derek McCulloch has catalogued hundreds of pieces from eight volumes of music collected, and in some cases, copied out by Jane Austen for family use. The scores are now available through some eight libraries in the United Kingdom and in others across the world.

Dr McCulloch is keen to point out that, despite the fact that much of the music was by popular 18th-century musical theatre composers, Austen and her family were not "low-brow" when it came to music.

He said: "It is classical music. Just because it isn't Beethoven does not mean it isn't worthwhile. English theatre entertainment of the 18th century was full of classical instrumentals. They didn't distinguish between music as we might."

Dr McCulloch said that there are sonatas, quartets and trios in the Austen family collection and that every member of the family probably played an instrument and that Jane was a relatively accomplished pianist.

He said: "It was commonplace for middle-class English families to play instruments just as a modern family might now be proficient on a computer."

Dr McCulloch, a lecturer in German but who did his doctorate on music and society in the 18th century, also aims to publish a single volume book, with co-author Ian Gannie, around Easter which will contain works from the volumes.

The music is also set for a public airing when Dr McCulloch's wife Jenny Thomas tours the UK this year with her chamber music group the Windsor Box and Fir Company. They hope to receive an Arts Council grant to help produce a CD, perhaps next year.

There is thought to be another four volumes of music belonging to the Austen family in a house nearby and Dr McCulloch plans to incorporate these into a second book.

The music is available in selected libraries, including the British Library and some municipal libraries, and can be accessed either through the Risen catalogue, or the Boucen, or the British Library Music Catalogue. Catalogue numbers are available from Dr McCulloch at the University of Surrey languages department. The original volumes are not on display at Jane Austen' house at Chawton, Hampshire, because they are too fragile.

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