The Department of Music has just launched a new concert series in collaboration with our friends and long-time partners at Chawton House Library, the research centre in the beautiful country house formerly owned by Jane Austen’s brother. Postgraduate pianist Ellen Day tells us about the performance:
On December 10 we gathered at Chawton House for the inaugural concert, featuring a newly restored 1828 Stodart grand piano. As students we were familiar with the piano in its former life in a corner of the keyboard room at the University of Southampton, and I’m not sure we were entirely convinced that it was the same instrument surrounded by the wood-panelled walls of Chawton House Library. The Music department organised a wonderful job with the restoration, which was funded by the North American Friends of Chawton House, and the piano fit beautifully in its new home. For the concert the piano was tuned to Young’s temperament, a historical method of tuning, which renders all keys useable while allowing them to retain distinctive harmonic colours. At the last minute we had to alter the running order of the concert, as it was hypothesised that the strenuous nature of some of the pieces might just be enough to put the piano out of tune again…
As well as head of keyboard studies at the University of Southampton, Professor David Owen Norris, the concert included third year undergraduate, Jamie Harris, and postgraduate students Neville Bharucha and me. We presented a varied programme, including music from Jane Austen’s collection. It was extremely enlightening to play these historical pieces in a setting which perhaps more closely resembles the context for which they were written. Music which can feel quite sparse in a larger concert hall was brought to life by the living-room atmosphere at Chawton House and the eccentricities of the Stodart. The concert had sold out and we received a warm reception from the audience who had come to support the project.
The functioning green room was at the top of a dark staircase, the twists and turns of which defied all gravity, and I felt very much like I was in a BBC adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s novels. Due to the winter hours we didn’t get to see much of the village, but we did catch a glimpse of Jane Austen’s House on the drive through town, and we were very well taken care of by the kind team at Chawton and an endless supply of sandwiches.