Jane Austen & Harp

Posted In: Amateur Harpists

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    HBrock25 on #163328

    I know this may have been discussed before….but re-reading JA’s novels many of the ladies are playing the harp. My question is: what sort of harp music/composers etc… were popular during the Regency period? Were they playing mostly pedal harps or lever harps? Any information much appreciated!

    Briggsie B. Peawiggle on #163329

    I can’t answer your question…..I could if I thought about it enough, but I’m too tired to do that right now. However, was the book “Pride and Prejudice?” I just saw the movie and the harp was in several scenes.


    Anna Bradford on #163330

    It was actually “Mansfield Park”…a character named Mary Crawford is quite the accomplished harpist. I haven’t seen the screen versions of Mansfield Park…but perhaps there would be some information there! (if the directors did their research)

    Also, in “Persuasion”, the Musgrove girls play the harp. I can’t remember the harp in “Pride & Prejudice” at the moment, but I am sure if I went back to it, it would all come back to me ….

    catherine-rogers on #163331

    Georgiana Darcy plays the harp in Pride and Prejudice but none of the movie versions I’ve seen have ever shown her doing so. She also plays pianoforte and has been shown doing that.

    Jane Austen died in 1817 so any harps her characters played would have been prior to that date. Sebastien Erard received a patent for his double action harp in 1810 so it’s possible Miss Austen might have seen and/or heard such an instrument, but it would probably be a safe guess that most of the harps she would have encountered would have been single action, as there would have been so many more of them at that time.

    The instruments seen in dramatizations of the novels probably depend on what the set decorator could get, so they might not be accurate.

    Of her books in which harpists appear, Pride and Prejudice was finished in 1979 (published in 1813), so Georgiana Darcy’s harp would have been single action. Mansfield Park (Mary Crawford) and Persuasion (Louisa Musgrove) were written between 1811 and 1816 so those harps could have been double action. We’ll never know…

    kreig-kitts on #163332

    The most recent movie version of Pride and Prejudice does show a harp in the room where Georgiana plays the piano, though it doesn’t show her play the harp.

    Bonnie Shaljean on #163333

    Often the reasons young women played the harp in Austen’s novels were not musical. She writes:

    “Miss Crawford’s attractions did not lessen. The harp arrived, and rather added to her beauty, wit, and good-humour; for she played with the greatest obligingness… A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart… Fanny could not wonder that Edmund was at the Parsonage every morning…”

    Mansfield Park, Chapter 7

    Bonnie Shaljean on #163334

    There’s also another Austen passage – which I can’t find right now – about how useful the harp is for showing off a pretty arm or ankle. Will post it if I can lay hands on it –

    Kathleen Clark on #163335

    The English Regency period is listed as 1811 – 1820 (extended to include 1795-1837), so composers during and before that time would be played. I’m guessing Bochsa, Spohr, Dussek for a start (all were involved with/married to harpists), plus other composers like Mozart who died a decade before then. Naderman’s Harp Company was big then, so Naderman for sure plus his single action harps, like the one from 1797 that keeps popping up in historic references, i.e. Spohr’s wife who had trouble moving from it to Erard’s double action harp (which appeared in 1811 from his English patent of 1810).

    unknown-user on #163336

    As for the music played; I would imagine that it would depend greatly on what music visitors brought from London, Glasgow, and from the capitals of the continent, especially, Paris, Vienna and the major cities of what was then Prussia (most of modern-day Germany). If you were in a ‘good’ (I.E. Aristocratic or, at least very monied merchant class) family, then people would visit; family and friends would come up for ‘the hunt’ or the grouse shooting season or something like that. there would be a good chance that musical members of the visiting group would show the resident family musicians what was current in the places the visitors had recently been, quite likely too, if one, travelling person was friendly with distant cousin Helen in the hills of Yorkshire, they might mail her some piece of music they bought from a street vendor in Vienna, Paris, or anywhere else. Read Jane Eyre (later time but similar lifestyle), the chapters where Rochester has the long social month or two when his friends are visiting. Charlotte Bronte knew some of how that class mixed.

    As for what kind of music, I would say it would depend, among other things, upon the religious and social views of the ‘master’ of the house. If cousin Joseph sent daughter of the house some cheeky (I.E slightly naughty) song, and Father (who in that patriarchal time was like a king) was a puritanical tyrant, then it is likely that the first little Bohemian ditty in the house would be the last. If things were more libertarian in the house, then I would guess that light classics, polkas, waltzes, mazurkas, and some folk tunes might be found amongst spiritual songs and songs of the season (songs for festivals, weddings and the like as well as songs for funerals, and for social gatherings).

    It is just personal opinion, quite fallible, anybody with more knowledge of the time might well be able to give a clearer idea. I wouldn’t think that pedal harps were very common in the Regency period, at least not in England unless the family was (very) wealthy. They were quite new then were they not? And English houses of the Regency period are stinkers for woodworm, dry-rot, rising damp, and high humidity (Trust me, I’ve been in plenty, lived in one or two when I was a child in England) and the climate of a house of that time would probably play heck with a pedal harp, but I would well be wrong. Just an educated guess here.

    Bonnie Shaljean on #163337

    Pedal harps were hugely popular in the Regency period: it was something of a golden age for them.

    Briggsie B. Peawiggle on #163338

    In the older version just shown on TMC she actually plays the harp.

    unknown-user on #163339

    Thanks Bonnie. I stand corrected,

    catherine-rogers on #163340

    I believe the version of Pride and Prejudice recently shown on TCM was the 1940’s version with Greer Garson playing Elizabeth Bennett, and she was shown at a harp. Although I love Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, that version was, to put it mildly, grossly inaccurate and unfaithful to the book, going so far as to change major characters and rearrange events. Elizabeth never played harp in the book. She did play the pianoforte and sing tolerably well.

    If you want to see a really good version, check out the BBC mini-series released in 1979 or 1980 with Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul. Better yet, read the book. You won’t be disappointed.

    barbara-brundage on #163341

    Pedal harps were actually pretty much the only kind of harps in general use then, in England anyway.

    What’s really interesting to me is that while we are very, very respectful these days of those little pedal harps, they evidently didn’t see them that way at all. If you can lay hands on a copy of Lady Caroline Lamb’s novel “Glenarvon” (about her relationship with Byron), everyone in that book is always leaving harps around on the edges of cliffs or in the back garden. “Hmm, there’s her harp so she must be around here somewhere…”

    Briggsie B. Peawiggle on #163342

    I have read the book, but it was awhile back. I stand corrected. It was Greer Garson who played the harp. I enjoy old movies…..I don’t really care how accurate they are. Gone With The Wind won tons of oscars and it was GROSSLY inaccurate to the book, but I still love it. 🙂


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