Was this book of Pleyel sonatas once part of Jane Austen's circle?

Music is part of the atmosphere of any Jane Austen novel. Eighteen music books containing almost 600 pieces in print and manuscript form and belonging to the Austen family were digitized in 2016. We know that the novelist used or compiled several of the books herself, representing some of the few surviving physical artifacts from Austen's life. The books are currently on deposit at the University of Southampton library.

A new article by Marian Wilson Kimber takes a look at a volume of printed music that is quite far removed from England: a bound volume of six sonatas by Ignace Pleyel preserved at the University of Iowa's Rita Benton Music Library (US-IO; RISM ID no. 990051014). The cover is tantalizingly embossed with the name "Miss Austen." Was this book also once part of the Austen family's music collection?

Kimber writes that the sonatas, Six sonatas for the piano-forte or harpsichord; with an accompaniment for a flute or violin, and violoncello (B. 431-436), were known to the Austen family, as they appear elsewhere in the family's music collection in the form of a volume owned by Elizabeth Austen, the novelist's sister-in-law. Kimber compares handwritten markings in Elizabeth Austen's copy with the Iowa copy and finds evidence that this volume may indeed have been owned by the Austen family: if not Elizabeth Austen, then perhaps the author's niece, Fanny Knight, could have owned the volume.

In her article, Kimber also details the role of the piano in the lives of women in Georgian England and discusses Jane Austen's musical background. You can read the full article free online until June 30:

  • Marian Wilson Kimber, "Miss Austen Plays Pleyel: An Additional Source for the Jane Austen Family Music Collection?" Fontes Artis Musicae, 67, no. 1 (January-March 2020): 1-17. Cited in RISM as KimberA 2020. Available online: muse.jhu.edu/article/753516

You can also read some more background information by Kimber on the Rita Benson Music Library's blog.


Image: Cover and p. 23 of Pleyel's Sonata II in G, Allegro, which contains the handwritten reminder "Practice this." US-IO FOLIO M322 .P5 B.431-436 1800; RISM ID no. 990051014. Available online (public domain).

Category: Library collections

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