Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jane Austen Sightings: Piano Playing

My son, Ben, a piano player, gets credit for the latest Jane Austen sighting. He is reading What Every Pianist Needs to Know about the Body. And, just barely into the book (page 2 to be precise), he finds two references to Jane Austen novels.

The authors, Thomas Mark, Roberta Gary, and Thom Miles, are discussing "Finger Orientation." They write, "Ironically, one of the most obvious facts about piano playing has also been an obstacle to understanding." The obvious fact? "We play the piano with our fingers." Well, I'll let them explain:

"The spectacle of a pianist's fingers at work has enthralled audiences throughout the history of the piano. An early example, the more telling since it comes from a novel, not a method book, is in Jane Austen's Persuasion, published in 1818. As Anne Eliot plays the piano, Mrs. Musgrove exclaims, 'Well done, Miss Anne!... Lord bless me! how those little fingers of yours fly about!'" (This is found in Book I, Chapter 6.)

Because the movement of the fingers is so obvious, but the movement of other parts of the body more subtle, "people have tended to conclude that the fingers do most of the work of piano playing." This causes the authors to think of Jane Austen. Her writings, they assert, reflect this assumption about the fingers doing the majority of the work. This time, the authors turn to Pride and Prejudice, specifically Elizabeth's response to Darcy about what practising involves. (Of course, her response is referring to more than piano practice.)

Elizabeth says, "My fingers ... do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault--because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution". (Volume 2, chapter 8.)

Their book will go on to argue against a finger-oriented approach to piano playing, drawing on principles of the Alexander technique. So, for them, Jane Austen provides negative examples of what it means to focus on fingers as the primary means for creating music. But, still, I love that at least one of these co-authors reads Jane Austen!

1 comment:

  1. She is one of my favorite writers. The way that she express her ideas it's something special.