This week saw the anniversary of the birth date of one of the most celebrated of all English novelists, Jane Austen. In recognition of this occasion, a University of Southampton digital library project is making the music collection of the 19th century novelist and her family freely available to access online.
The Austen Family Music Books is a collection of 18 albums of music containing around 600 pieces that belonged to the Jane Austen and her relations. The imaging of the books was carried out at the University’s Hartley Library in its state-of-the-art Digitisation Unit.
Professor of Music at Southampton Jeanice Brooks, who led the project, says: “Jane Austen’s novels are full of musical scenes, and this collection will help literature scholars and Austen fans to better understand the real musical environment that fed the novelist’s imagination. Just as importantly, the collection provides music historians with a unique glimpse of the musical life of an extended gentry family in the years around 1800.”
Like many gentry women, Austen herself played the piano and sang throughout most of her life. She and her family also carefully copied music by hand into personal albums, and collected the sheet music that poured from London presses during her lifetime.
These albums of individually copied or purchased sheet music items, bound together, show the personal tastes of their owners – just as a digital music collection on a mobile phone or MP3 device does today. In addition to Austen herself, other women in the Austen family, including her sisters-in-law and nieces, contributed material to the collection.
This digitisation project is a collaboration between researchers at the University of Southampton and the books’ current owners. It features albums held by Jane Austen’s House Museum and the private collections of two Austen descendants, Professor Richard Jenkyns and Mr Richard Knight. Dr. Julian Ball of the University Library Digitisation Unit commented: “Collaboration between university libraries and heritage partners provides a way to make fragile originals accessible to a wide public, helping conservation and reducing pressure on small museums.”
To view the Austen Family Music Books, please visit: https://archive.org/details/austenfamilymusicbooks