The Innocent Diversion - Music in the Life and Writings of Jane Austen
by Patrick Piggott
First paperback edition, 2011
George Mantle Childe (original edition, 1979)
This highly readable volume covers three aspects of Jane Austen and music: Austen as performer and listener (apparently, she preferred the former); references to music in her writings, including letters and the less well known fiction; and the two collections of her own music books, many written out in her own hand. The major novels are discussed in detail, showing how music fitted into her plots. Emma is particularly important in this respect.
Her own collected music featured a lot of popular dance music but there are songs and instrumental pieces as well. These include relatively little Beethoven and Mozart, with rather more Haydn and much by lesser known composers of the Austen period. Clementi and Cramer may be instanced. Cramer is the only composer to be mentioned in an Austen novel.
The book is full of insights into both musical history and Austen's writing. There are however a few details to pick up. Were public concerts "rare events outside London or Bath" (p.17)? I have come across many circa 1800-1820 in my researches into Doncaster musical history and other places were equally well endowed. William Boyce was born in 1711, not 1710. Kotzwara's The Battle of Prague was not "one of the oldest battlepieces" (p.145); I can think of examples by William Byrd, Johann Kuhnau and Heinrich Biber centuries before. And it is surely wrong to assert that J.S. Bach "had yet to be discovered" in Austen's time. Mozart knew of him and in England Samuel Wesley had done much for him, well before Mendelssohn took him up. However these are details which do not affect a warm welcome for this book which is well detailed and cogently carried through.
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A warm welcome for this book which is well detailed and cogently carried through.