Feb 25 2011 5:00pm

Marianne by Moonlight, Part 1: The Music of Jane’s World

Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood in Sense and SensibilityI may be dense about the Regency in general, but now I think I get it.  The idea is this: In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen writes,

. . . and each of them was busy in arranging their particular concerns, and endeavoring, by placing around them books and other possessions, to form themselves a home. Marianne’s pianoforte was unpacked and properly disposed of . . .

and now I’m wondering what sort of piano the middle Miss Dashwood might have brought with her (maybe a Broadwood or a Pleyel—but more on that in a later post) and what sort of music she might have played on it. 

Actually, I want to know what she did play, but I vaguely remember that Jane Austen wrote fiction and so I’m stuck with fantastical conjecture. 

So I’ll say she warmed up with a clunky version of “Louie, Louie” before playing Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” and a medley of ABBA songs.

Really, though, any time you want to look at music during the early 19th century, Beethoven busts into your view. Like, I don’t know, Elvis in '50s rock and roll or 9/11 in 21st century air travel, depending on your point of view.

This wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself, but it seems that the first things we think of when we think Beethoven and Marianne Dashwood is the “Moonlight” Sonata.  Or maybe “Für Elise.”  Neither of which represents Beethoven well.  He didn’t even give the bagatelle “Für Elise” an opus number. (“Opus” means “work” and an opus number indicates that he considered it weighty. For “weighty,” read “profitable.”)

Okay, here’s the problem with Marianne and the “Moonlight” Sonata.  (Incidentally, Beethoven didn’t name it the “Moonlight,” the name came from the publisher, who put a moonlight scene on the cover. The name stuck because it’s more evocative and easier to say than the composer’s Quasi una fantasia—which refers to its structurally free-ish opening movement.) Where was I?

Yes. The problem is that we only think of the opening movement, which not only slightly misrepresents Beethoven (if you had to choose his three most representative works, they’d probably be the Fifth Symphony, the Third Symphony, and then the Fifth Symphony again), but is also far easier to play than the latter part of the sonata. Just imagine what headaches Marianne would cause in the cottage in Barton trying to pound her way through the third movement. 

What did they use for Advil during the Regency? Gin?


Philipp Goedicke, Twitter: @PGoedi

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Grace Elliot
1. Grace Elliot
Really interesting post! Thank you. I tryed to find a CD of music from the Georgian / Regency period and largely drew a blank - it was all much earlier or later. I'm not musical (hence trying to educate myself) and didnt think of Beethoven.
Grace x
Myretta Robens
2. Myretta
If knowing what Jane Austen played might inform conjecture about what her characters played (not that I'm suggesting that Marianne Dashwood was anything at all like her creator), here's a great site-in-progress based on Jane Austen's music notebooks.
Myretta Robens
4. Myretta
If investigating what Jane Austen played would give us any insight into Marianne's repertoire (not that I'm suggesting that Marianne Dashwood was anything like her creator), here's a nifty site (still in progress) based on Jane Austen's muic notebooks.
Charli Mac
5. CharliMac
I think Opium was widely used then, no?

I had no idead Fur Elise was not profitable for Beethoven. I remember that from a music box in my mother's bedroom.
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