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Jane Austen's family music books digitised and online

16 December 2015
Jane Austen's House Museum
Copy of section of 'Deck the Halls' score in Jane Austen's hand. © Jane Austen's House Museum

The music collection of novelist Jane Austen and her family is being made freely available to access online as part of a University of Southampton digital library project.

The Austen Family Music Books is a collection of 18 albums of music containing around 600 pieces that belonged to the 19th century writer and her relations. The imaging of the books was carried out at the University's Hartley Library in its state-of-the-art Digitisation Unit.

Professor of Music at Southampton Jeanice Brooks, who led the project, says: “Jane Austen’s novels are full of musical scenes, and this collection will help literature scholars and Austen fans to better understand the real musical environment that fed the novelist's imagination. Just as importantly, the collection provides music historians with a unique glimpse of the musical life of an extended gentry family in the years around 1800.”

Austen herself played the piano and sang throughout most of her life. She and her family carefully copied music by hand into personal albums, and collected the sheet music that poured from London presses. These albums of individually copied or purchased sheet music items, bound together, show the personal tastes of their owners – just as a digital music collection on a mobile phone or MP3 device would today. In addition to Austen herself, other women in the Austen family, including her sisters-in-law and nieces, all contributed material to the collection.

Diane Bilbey of Jane Austen's House Museum says: “We are delighted that this collection can be shared with so many through digital means, and that its availability will benefit researchers and musicians alike.”

Dr Julian Ball of the Hartley Library Digitisation Unit added: "Collaboration between university libraries and heritage partners provides a way to make fragile originals accessible to a wide public, helping conservation and reducing pressure on small museums."

Austen Family Music Book page
Austen Family Music Book page. © Jane Austen's House Museum

This digitisation project is a collaboration between researchers at the University of Southampton and the books' current owners, with assistance from Chawton House Library. It features albums held by Jane Austen's House Museum (Chawton, Hampshire) and the private collections of two Austen descendants, Professor Richard Jenkyns and Mr Richard Knight. The release is in anticipation of the 2017 bicentenary of Jane Austen's death, so events mounted for the anniversary can draw on the music Austen knew and performed herself.

To view the Austen Family Music Books, please visit:

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