Musical Gentlemen

The lack of amateur musical men in JA’s novels is not quite representative of the time.

Certainly, there were musical male members of the Royal Family, and they had a tradition of performing in private: George III’s father, Frederick, Prince of Wales was a noted viola da gamba player.

This is the rather famous picture of him playing the instrument with his sisters at Kew Palace(though from the looks on his sisters’ faces, it is tempting to think he might not have been that good a player!)

George III was a noted flautist, having been instructed in the instrument by Carl Friedrich Weidemann and was also an harpsichord player (below is a picture of his transverse flute, now in the Royal Collection).

He also promoted music at court (especially the works of Handel) with the existence of the Kings Band which gave noted musicians like Carl Friedrich Abel and Johann Christian Bach the opportunity to air new compositions.

If you look at Gainsborough portraits,( a little early for our period proper, but still relevant) you will find many men of the gentry class of England in the 18th century, pictured with their musical intsruments: for example the portrait of William Woolaston shows him pictured with his flute;he was a landowner in Suffolk (he owned Finborough Hall and also became a local Member of Parliament).

Gainsborough also painted clergymen such as the Reverend John Chafy, vicar of Great Bricett, who was a noted amateur viola da gamba player.

Gainsbrough himself was a noted amateur musician and was great friends with the famous professional musicians of the Linley family from Bath (and also painted fabulous portraits of them)

Glee clubs were also very popular during the 18th century and early 19th century, with both the aristocracy and the gentry, not to mention the lower orders. George IV was a member of the Noblemen and Gentleman’s catch club, which was originally formed in 1761 at the Thatched House Tavern in St James’s Street, London. These glee and catch clubs tended to be men only institutions, and were very social occasions with simple food/porter etc. served to the participants. A glee was a song sung in three parts ( Mansfield Park the Miss Bertrams and Mary Crawford sing one in Chapter 11: it must have sounded enticing for it tempts Edmund to leave Fanny to her star gazing alone.)

JA, when she was staying with her brother Henry and his wife Eliza in London in 1811, certainly met musical men, both professional and amateur:

Eliza is walking out by herself. She has plenty of business on her hands just now, for the day of the party is settled, and drawing near. Above 80 people are invited for next Tuesday evening, and there is to be some very good music — five professionals, three of them glee singers, besides amateurs. Fanny will listen to this. One of the hirelings is a Capital on the harp, from which I expect great pleasure. The foundation of the party was a dinner to Henry Egerton and Henry Walter, but the latter leaves town the day before. I am sorry, as I wished her prejudice to be done away, but should have been more sorry if there had been no invitation.

Letter to Cassandra at Godmersham, from Sloane St: Thursday , April 18th, 1811.

And Henry’s apothecary, Charles Haden was also an accomplished amateur musician. But he did not appear to wish to “perform to strangers”:

But you seem to be under a mistake as to Mr. H. You call him an apothecary. He is no apothecary; he has never been an apothecary; there is not an apothecary in this neighbourhood — the only inconvenience of the situation perhaps — but so it is; we have not a medical man within reach. He is a Haden, nothing but a Haden, a sort of wonderful nondescript creature on two legs, something between a man and an angel, but without the least spice of an apothecary. He is, perhaps, the only person not an apothecary hereabouts. He has never sung to us. He will not sing without a pianoforte accompaniment.

Letter to Cassandra from Hans Place, Saturday Dec. 2nd 1815..

So, yes, there were amateur musical men in JA’s era. She just didn’t seem to attribute any of her male character with any extraordinary musical skill, though I admit that Captain Wentworth tries to “make out” an air on the pianoforte in Chapter 8 of Persuasion! What that says about his ability as a musician, though, I am not sure 😉

Oh , and a final word about Henry Purcell. He was not really of JAs era, being born in 1659 and died in 1695. He was really what is termed a Baroque period composer. I know in P&P3 they used his music at the Netherfield Ball, when Lizzy and Darcy dance( the Rondo From “Abdelazer”),but it was from a much earlier time than JA’s lifetime.