During the eighteenth century, england was seen throughout europe as an unusually musical nation, one in which different kinds of music were enjoyed at every level of society. That was why, at one end of the scale, a major composer like Handel chose to make his home in London, and why both Haydn and the young Mozart enjoyed highly successful visits. At the other extreme, pubs and ale houses were very often the venue for all kinds of impromptu bursts of singing or playing of various instruments.
Amongst the ‘accomplishments’ expected of well brought up young ladies, the ability to provide either singing or playing an instrument as part of an evening’s entertainment figured highly. Not surprisingly, all this attachment to music produced its own forms of commerce. Music teachers abounded, as did operatic performances and concerts of all kinds.
In an age before audio recording, music in the home meant performing for one another. Simplified versions of favourite songs and pieces, adapted to the skills of amateur performers of varied ability, made this practical. Here is a typical advertisement for music for home use, as it appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle for 4th January, 1783:
Convivial Songster, New Edition.
This Day is Published, Embellished with an elegant Frontispiece of the Chapel of Venus, an engraved Title page, and a beautiful Vignette. Price 2 shillings and 6 pence, bound in red.
The Convivial Songster ; Containing a select Collection of the best Songs in the English Language, classed under the following Heads, viz.
Humorous, Amorous, Bacchanalian, Satyrical [sic], Songs on the Caprices of Women, Dialectic Songs, Sea Songs, Miscellaneous and Original Songs, with the Music prefixed to each; selected from the best Authors, and the most approved Collections, and expressly intended for the Use of those who will wish to please the Companies where Humour, Mirth, and Wit are understood and applauded. With an Introduction, containing Rules and Instructions for such as wish to become pleasing and good Singers. To which is added a great Number of entirely original Toasts and Sentiments, no where [sic] to be found but in this Work.
N.B. The Tunes themselves form a pleasing Collection, are put in the most familiar Keys, and, to such as play the German Flute, Violin, etc are, from the Scarceness and Goodness of many of them, worth more than the Price of the Book.
You can see the hint that this collection was not aimed at serious musicians in the statement that it was: “…expressly intended for the Use of those who will wish to please the Companies where Humour, Mirth, and Wit are understood and applauded.” You might not be the most accomplished singer or performer, but if you made your audience of friends and relatives laugh, you were bound to be a success.
It’s a shame that this custom has been lost to ipods and disc players. I wanted my children to learn how to play an instrument but they were tied up in sports!
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I thought you might enjoy this short piece from Jann Rowland, a Canadian, on the anachronistic use of music in Austenesque literature and film. Happy a good day…
(You might also check out some of the comments.)
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My mind also immediately went to Austen and the prominent place home music and the ability of young ladies to “sing and play” takes in her books. Also the social distinction that “having a pianoforte in the parlour” could confer.
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