Regency Music Cassidy Holli Konrad

Picture above: The Music Room by George Goodwin Kilburn

Music was a large piece of entertainment during and around the Regency period in England. Popular instruments of the time period include the flute, pianoforte, harpsichord, harp, violin, and cello. The most common instruments are within the string family. Owning an instrument was a significant sign of wealth and affluence, and playing one made one appear more intelligent and more suitable as a partner. This meant that playing instruments was only for the middle to upper classes. In the context of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the most notable instrument of these is the pianoforte. This particular instrument was played less by men, as women were sometimes even expected to learn how to play.

Regency Pianoforte

Music in the Text

People of the higher class often expected anyone of great civility and social status to play an instrument well. This is seen in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice through Colonel Fitzwilliam while being in the drawing room of Lady Catherine's residence,


Earlier in the same chapter, Lady Catherine implies that people of reasonable respect either have a great interest in music or play a musical instrument themselves.

"What is it thast you are saying, fitzwilliam? what is it you are talking of? what are you telling miss bennet? Let me hear what it is." {said by lady catherine}
"'We are speaking of music, madam,' said he, when no longer able to avoid a reply."
"Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation, if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learned, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully. How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?" (Chapter 31)

The rest of the conversation is between Lady Catherine and Darcy about his sister's wonderful musicianship and well disciplined practice. This entire particular page of the book is totally covered in discussion of musical talent and criticism of lack thereof, displaying a difference between Elizabeth and Darcy's sister, Georgiana. This could have been to intimidate Elizabeth for her differing style of upbringing, as Lady Catherine had previously insulted the Bennet family for not having a governess.

Before all of this, Lady Catherine also shows even more emphasis on the musical presence in the middle to high classes, as seen in the following dialogue.

"...Do you play and sing, miss bennet?" {said by Lady Catherine}
"A little" {reply from Elizabeth Bennet}
"Oh! then--sometime or other we shall be happy to hear you. Our instrument is a capital one, probably superior--You shall try it someday.--Do your sisters play and sing?"
"One of them does."
"Why did not you all learn?--You ought all to have learned. The Miss Webbs all play, and their father has not so good an income as yours..." (Chapter 29)

This displays Lady Catherine seeming disgusted by the lack of musicianship within the Bennet family, as she knows of a family who is financially less fortunate as the Bennets who yet still has the funds to allow their children to learn to play musical instruments. This also shows that the custom of having all members of a family understand some musical artform was not only present within the highest class, as the Bennets and Webbs are middle class families.

Pianoforte History

The first of the instruments mentioned here is the harpsicord. (Photo credit to Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

This was followed by the pianoforte, also known as the fortepiano.

Further development lead to the grand piano we know today.

The Harpsichord

The above video plays a harpsichord piece from English composer Giles Farnaby.

Although the harpsichord is definitely not the first piano-like instrument to be found and used in early-modern English music, it will be the first I mention to give a reference point. This instrument was much like a harp, as the strings are plucked. The plucking comes from the pressing of a key rather than from the release of one's fingertip. This instrument is often built with multiple levels of keys, allowing for a wider range. This instrument has a more precise sound and does not allow for varying volumes or dynamics.

The Pianoforte

Also known as the fortepiano, the pianoforte is simply an early form of the modern piano. This instrument evolved from the harpsichord. This form of percussive string instrument was created originally by Bartolomeo Cristofori, who wanted to be able to control the auditory volume when playing on the harpsichord. This was done by changing the style of initializing sound from a pluck or release of tension to a hammer mechanism. This allowed for the keys to be pressed more gently for a softer hit on the string, causing a quieter sound of the note, and a louder sound from a harder hit on the key for the same reason. The pianoforte allowed for composers to begin writing dynamics in pieces made for piano instruments. This gave the pianoforte its original name, "gravicembalo col piano, e forte" which translates to harpsichord with loud and soft. These pianofortes were often small and rectangular in shape, usually with a comparatively smaller range than its predecessor, the harpsichord, and followers, up until the modern piano.

A woman playing on a piano accompanied by a man on violin

The pianoforte was regularly known as the instrument to be played by ladies, as it was very uncommon to find a gentleman playing a piano instrument at all. Gentlemen, if they did play an instrument, would play the flute or some string and bow instrument instead. It was not uncommon for a woman to play a pianoforte sonata (also known as a solo piece) accompanied by a man on flute, cello, or violin. Although women were often accustomed to the pianoforte, some learned to play on other string instruments as well.

The Modern Grand Piano

The piano we are familiar with is the result of developments upon developments of the early pianofortes. Early modern pianos contained five octaves of range, whereas current pianos have seven octaves or more of range.

Works Cited

Matt Bengtson's Fortepiano. Perf. Matt Bengtson. Matt Bengston Pianist. Matt Bengtson, 8 Nov. 2011. Web. <>.

Powers, Author: Wendy. "The Piano: The Pianofortes of Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731)." The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p., Oct. 2008. Web.

Hayes, Deborah, Dr. "A Drawing-Room Concert in Georgian England." N.p.: n.p., 2000. N. pag. Print.

Elfenbein, Andrew. "Romanticism and Music Culture in Britain, 1770-1840: Virtue and Virtuosity." Wordsworth Circle, vol. 41, no. 4, 2010, p. 188+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.

George, Lianne. "The opposite of sex: why we're obsessed with Jane Austen and Regency-era romance." Maclean's, 13 Aug. 2007, p. 56+. World History in Context, Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.

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