Clementi PianoText by Olive Drakes, Volunteer at Jane Austen’s House
Many a visitor to Jane Austen’s House has paused on the threshold, listening as strains of piano music issue from the Drawing Room. They enter to discover someone has sought the steward’s permission to play the Clementi square piano on display there. It is not difficult to imagine residents of Chawton village pausing in a similar way when, some two hundred years ago, they passed the Austen’s cottage as Jane applied herself to piano practice before preparing breakfast, her contribution to the running of the household.
As a young girl, Jane’s love of music was encouraged by her father, who bought her a pianoforte and arranged for her to receive instruction from George Chard, assistant organist at Winchester Cathedral and Master of Music at Winchester College. She copied music onto manuscript paper with great neatness and precision; the complexity of some of these pieces indicate her expertise went beyond providing the accompaniment for country dances and songs with which she enlivened her family circle.
Music is an important element in all Jane Austen’s novels, used both as a plot device and as a means of describing many of the personalities who so delight her readers.
Her pianoforte was sold when, on her father’s retirement, the family left Steventon for Bath. She later rented a similar instrument and, on settling in Chawton, planned to buy ‘as good a pianoforte as can be got for thirty guineas’, a considerable sum for the purpose.
The museum’s piano is of a slightly later date than the one Jane then purchased, but is likely to be of a similar style and quality. Its presence in the Drawing Room, in which it was her custom to play, is a fitting illustration of the importance of music in the author’s life.