Tag Archives: Music

The Inspirational Value of Finger Exercises

Last night I wrote a scene in which my heroine plays finger exercises on the piano (finger exercises tend to be somewhat dull and monotonous – in other words, they’re just perfect for a heroine who feels sad and depressed) (yes, I like torturing my characters, but then you already knew that, didn’t you?). So I dug out my old piano music and studied the book with finger exercises, Hanon’s Der Klaviervirtuose (yes, indeed, I’ve got a WHOLE BOOK of finger exercises – the bright red book of horror). I laughed out aloud when I stumbled across the following note written by my piano teacher: “Please don’t place the fifth finger of your left hand like a fried sausage on the keys!” Needless to say that I just had to use this in my story. 🙂

And here’s the raw scene (note: the cousin is not the hero, and as you’ll see, the poor chap doesn’t have a name yet, though I did try out Edward & decided against it; for now, the cousin is XX):

Susanna sat at the piano and concentrated very hard on the finger exercises she was practicing. The left hand was still too weak, the notes too uneven. Drat that little finger! And the ring finger!

She started again, concentrating even harder.

51213141 – 51213141 – two octaves up, and then all the way down again – 15453525…

“Drat,” she said as her little finger failed to comply. “And again.”

15453 –

The door opened, and her cousin walked into the drawing room.

– 525 – 15453525….

From the corner of her eyes she watched him sit on the sofa in that nonchalant, but elegant sprawl that was so characteristic of [Edward? No, not Edward – we’re not in Twilight for heaven’s sake!]

The fifth finger missed a key.

XX flinched.

Susanna swore softly. Start again, at the top.

15253545 – 15 –

Her little finger hurt, but she only gritted her teeth and continued. If she concentrated hard enough, she would master this, she was sure of it.

– 45352 –

“Are you intent on torturing that piano for the rest of the afternoon?” came her cousin’s somewhat pained voice from across the room.

Susanna clenched her jaw. “Yes,” she forced out. “As long as my little finger lies on the keys like a fried sausage, I will continue with this.”

“Don’t you worry your ears might start to bleed?” he drawled.

Susanna scowled at her fingers. She would not deign this with an answer.

She would not.

My ears might start to bleed,” he said plaintively.

Hands On! Music in a Bygone Age

In our age, in which printed matter is so easy to come by – indeed, our daily life is dominated by printed matter as are our correspondences – it’s very easy to forget to what extent handwritten texts dominated everyday culture 200 years ago. I knew that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a lot of poetry was still circulated privately among friends and family, and would be copied into private albums.

What I didn’t know until I started researching this matter for SPRINGTIME PLEASURES was that a lot of music was also circulated in the same manner. And we are not merely talking about short songs here; no, people copied longer pieces, too, like whole sonatas. Chawton House holds eight manuscript volumes of music that belonged to the Austen family:

The musical content of these volumes is varied. Songs, keyboard works (both solo and duet) and chamber music form the core of the collection and are drawn from a variety of sources. The contents are typical of domestic music-making of the period – and consequently include hardly any music by composers famous today. In Jane Austen’s day, Pleyel and Sterkel were more famous than Haydn and Mozart, their music often more accessible via successful printing and distribution businesses than those of their more talented colleagues with their high-powered court appointments and operatic commissions. 

(from the booklet to the CD Jane Austen Entertains)

Isn’t this fascinating? I have to admit that I was rather flabbergasted by the info that longer musical works were copied, too. So I decided to do an experiment, and copy the first few bars of the Haydn sonata Isabella plays at a party in SPRINGTIME PLEASURES. You can see the result above. From what I’ve seen, the Austens used albums in landscape format, so format wise, my attempt is not quite authentic. In addition, it’s been twenty years or more since I last wrote down music – and boy, did I feel these years!

Apart from the resulting awkwardness, I also noticed a number of other things that make copying music quite different from copying a text. First of all, with music you have to plan ahead and decide which hand to write down first. Secondly, you have to be so, so careful because it’s so, so easy to make mistakes. Also, you want to make sure that you (and others) will be able to read the music after you’ve copied it. As a curious side-effect, you become rather intimately acquainted with the piece you are copying, which, I assume, would also make it easier to learn the piece afterwards.

If you are interested in the Chawton House collection of music, I can recommend the CDs Jane Austen Entertains (you might want to listen to the samples first; several Amazon customers apparently didn’t like the soprano) and Jane Austen Piano Favourites. If you’d like to start copying a few musical pieces yourself, I suggest you do it in style and buy this scrumptious-looking Edition Peters album

John Denver & The Muppets

I know it’s not Christmas yet, but hey, I’ve only just discovered this, so please bear with me: John Denver & the Muppets singing “12 Days of Christmas” — how cute is that?

Musical Sunday

Every once in a while, I buy some music for a change (instead of just books). And last night was one of these times (okay, I admit: I was grumpy about something and thought some online retail therapy would help) (it did *g*). So I ordered
  • the new Enya album And Winter Came (isn’t the cover gorgeous?)
  • the somewhat older Enya album Amarantine
  • the album Songs from a Secret Garden by Secret Garden, a new-to-me band – I liked the snippets from the music sampler at amazon

and last but not least

  • Rhydian Roberts’s debut album (woohoo!)

That last one is completely Karen Scott’s fault: when she blogged about The XFactor some time ago, I started rummaging around on YouTube, where I first stumbled across Connie Talbot (awwwwww!) …

… and then over Rhydian Roberts (oh my gosh!!!!). At first I was somewhat put off by his strange hair-do (my thoughts ran somewhat along the line of “What a dork!”), but when I heard him sing — complete melt-down. *g* What a lovely, lovely voice that man has!

This is him singing “You Raise Me Up” at The XFactor:

And “Somewhere” (which almost made me cry):

(Whoever wrote the “About” snippet on YouTube didn’t do a proper job with the background research: Barbara Streisand might have recorded that song at some time in the past, but of course, it’s originally from Bernstein’s Westside Story: it’s sung at a pivotal point in the musical by Tony and Maria and is reprised at the end, when Tony lies dying in Maria’s arms.)