At Home with Music: Domestic Music-Making in Georgian Britain

Submitting Institution

University of Southampton

Unit of Assessment

Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

This project achieved impact on cultural life through improved public understanding of domestic music making c. 1800; conserving, interpreting and presenting neglected musical sources in heritage properties and private collections; creating new public art works; influencing the practice of heritage curators, conservators, and volunteers at local and national levels; and enhancing heritage visitor experience. It achieved economic impact through concert, recording and film production and sales and by developing stimuli to national and international tourism. Beneficiaries include new national and international audiences such as heritage tourists and Austen fans, who do not generally listen to classical music or have knowledge of early music performance practice.

Underpinning research

Before the advent of large concert halls, people most frequently experienced music in domestic settings. And after the explosion of the British printing trade in the 18th century, a vast amount of sheet music was published for use in the home. Yet today we know little about how people made music behind closed doors.

Pioneering work on music in London (McVeigh, Weber) and the provinces (Cowgill, Holman) has demonstrated how the burgeoning wealth of Britain c.1800 contributed to a flourishing cultural economy. The role of domestic musical activity in this picture has been relatively neglected, however, and associated musical sources virtually ignored. Domestic music collections owned by heritage bodies are generally poorly catalogued and little understood; music does not figure in curatorial training, and musical aspects of properties are thus rarely effectively interpreted for visitors. The worlds of heritage and historically informed performance have remained almost entirely separate, despite many shared goals. Our research investigates the world of private music making in Georgian Britain, aiming to generate new information about repertories and performance practices that characterised domestic music making, and to discover how musical activities intersected with contemporary concepts of emotion, gender, family and class. In addition to historical work, project goals include innovations in curatorial practice so that domestic spaces in heritage properties `sound' for today's visitors in informative and stimulating ways.

Researchers include Professor Jeanice Brooks, Professor David Owen Norris (both in post throughout) and Dr Wiebke Thormählen (UoS Humanities Research Fellow 2009-10; Wellcome Trust Fellow 2010-11, AHRC Fellow Jan-Sept 2012, Lecturer in Music Sept 2012-). The project also involves 7 PhD students and 5 further staff (Drabkin, Chandler, Crouch, Bircher, Chapman). Our work has generated extensive new knowledge about repertories, collection habits and performance practices characteristic of domestic music-making generally and of specific individuals and locations [3.1-7,9]. From different theoretical directions (feminist scholarship, history of emotion, Habermassian notions of the 'public' role of the private sphere, material culture) we show how domestic music making shaped ideas and identities, and generated economic and social activity outside and within the home [3.1-2,5,9]. Our work in heritage demonstrates how interpretations focussed on music can combat the static effect of earlier conventions of display; this reinforces new trends in curatorial practice, emphasising 'intangible heritage' as well as the objects that were formerly the main focus of attention [3.7-8].

Brooks's research on compilations of music for domestic performance began in 2003, and sources include unstudied National Trust (NT) collections at Killerton (Devon) and Tatton Park (managed by Cheshire East Council (CEC)); Jane Austen's music books, curated by Jane Austen's House Museum (JAHM); and further, previously unknown Austen albums in private ownership. Brooks has advised JAHM, Chawton House Library (CHL), and the private owners of Austen family sources since 2007, and has formal research agreements with the NT and CEC since 2008. Norris specialises in early pianos, especially 19th-century English instruments; he has longstanding ties with the NT via Hatchlands, which houses the Cobbe collection of composer-related historic keyboards, and where he regularly performs research-led recitals. After her PhD on domestic string music in 18th-century Vienna, Thormählen began work on related British sources in 2009, concentrating on questions of emotion and health.

References to the research

3.1Brooks, "Les collections féminines d'albums de partitions dans l'Angleterre au début du XIXe siècle," in `La la la Maistre Henri': Mélanges de musicologie offerts à Henri Vanhulst, ed. Christine Ballman and Valérie Dufour (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), 351-365.

3.2 Brooks, "Musical Monuments for the Country House: Music, Collection and Display at Tatton Park," Music & Letters 91 (2010): 513-35 [declared REF 2014]


3.3 Norris, The World's First Piano Concertos Avie AV0014, 2003 [declared RAE 2008]

3.4 Norris, Entertaining Miss Austen, Dutton Epoch CDLX 7271, 2011 [declared REF 2014]

3.5 Thormählen, "Playing with Art: Musical Arrangements as Educational Tools in van Swieten's Vienna," Journal of Musicology 27 (2010): 342-76 [declared REF 2014]



3.6 Brooks, ' Women's Parlour Song Compilations in the Early Nineteenth Century', AHRC Small Grants in the Creative and Performing Arts, £14,936 (2006)

3.7 Brooks, 4 AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Awards with National Trust/ Cheshire East Council (fees and maintenance 2010-2016)

3.8 Brooks, 'Music's Hidden Histories', AHRC Cultural Engagement fund, for work with TattonPark, £20,000 (2013)

3.9 Thormählen, 'Domestic Music Making in England, 1780-1820' AHRC, £52,791 (2011)

Details of the impact

Our research on domestic music making has achieved impact through the means of performance, recording, radio, and film, and via extensive collaboration with heritage bodies on the conservation, interpretation and presentation of their holdings.

Brooks's initial findings featured in 'A Guide to the Accomplishments' for BBC Radio 3 (July 2008), recorded at JAHM, which used Jane Austen's music books to illustrate the dissemination patterns of domestic sheet music [5.1]. Thormählen provided music research and Norris mounted performances for the 30-episode BBC Radio 4 'A History of Private Life' (Sept-Nov 2009) [5.2]. Both have been rebroadcast.

Repertory and insights gained from Austen music books are key to engaging the Austen fan community. Brooks and Norris collaborated on a concert for 200 delegates to CHL's New Directions in Austen Research conference (2009), subsequently performed at Turner Sims, Southampton (2010); Georgian Festival, Poole (2010); American Friends of The Georgian Group (2011); and Hatchlands (2012). Norris recorded it at Hatchlands as Entertaining Miss Austen, to enthusiastic response from Austen fans (e.g. Jane Austen's Regency World (2011): `David Owen Norris breathes new life into recently discovered manuscripts.... delightful.') Working with Brooks's claims about the uses of domestic sheet music albums, Norris mounted Radio 4's Jane Austen's iPod (June 2010, recorded at JAHM) to fans' delight: 'WONDERFUL! . . . What an amazing thing to hear! As a Janeite, and musician myself, I really can't think of much more exciting than making music IN the same room where JA played every day, unless it would be from JA's OWN music, which this was!') [5.3]. It was so successful that Radio 4 commissioned a spinoff 'iPod' series in which Norris researches the musical choices of prominent historical figures.

CHL and JAHM regularly refer Austen music queries to Brooks [5.1, 5.4], providing the public with fuller and more accurate information about domestic music. Via CHL Brooks became principal music advisor for Optomen Television's 90-minute documentary for BBC 2, Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball, broadcast May 2013 to a prime-time audience peaking at 1.7 million; DVD release June 2013) [5.5]. Views on iPlayer and YouTube exceed 100,000 (as of 1 Oct 2013) and the Jane Austen Society of North America, a non-scholarly organisation, screened the film at their 2013 Annual Meeting for approximately 850 delegates. Southampton research insights were essential to completing the film. Brooks appears on screen explaining how music was copied for domestic use; she sourced the dance music from the Austen family books and collaborated on historically appropriate arrangements with Drabkin; Thormählen formed and led the dance band (made up of Southampton staff) with accurate instrumentation, which played for the Regency domestic ball reconstruction that the film is about. Comments on social media on Brooks's contribution included 'That was one of the many wow moments for this viewer' [5.6]. Through CHL and JAHM, Brooks has provided expertise on Austen music to the British Council (musical consultancy for the Teaching English film on Pride and Prejudice); trade book authors (Joan Strasbaugh, List Lovers Guide to Jane Austen (2013); amateur musicians (Jane Austen Society and other concerts in the UK, US, Canada and Australia) and students at all levels from the US, UK, and east Asia.

Brooks's research has improved the conservation and dissemination of Austen music. She negotiated deposit of Austen private materials at CHL (2009) for public and scholarly use, and led the digitisation of both private and JAHM-owned Austen books (2011-13, c.500 pieces) [5.1, 5.4]. JAHM now distributes the images to scholars and the public on demand and we have a joint license to mount them online in 2014, making the books' contents freely available worldwide. The University of Southampton funded the work in its state-of-the-art digitisation unit, as well as financing pre-digitisation conservation of the heavily deteriorated private materials.

Norris's research has helped instrument curators better understand their holdings; he has generated information for heritage partners about the instruments formerly used in their spaces and helped them to deploy this new knowledge in interpretation and display. The World's First Piano Concertos and Entertaining Miss Austen featured Hatchland pianos, and Norris recorded the NT-Hatchlands audio guide (2008), matching domestic repertory to the appropriate instruments. In 2013 his research in Southampton's Wellington Papers helped English Heritage restore Wellington's instrument — the oldest extant English grand piano — to his former residence at Apsley House. The return of the instrument was filmed and widely reported in the press (Daily Mail, Telegraph) and on radio (BBC Radio 4 Today, World Service) [5.7].

Brooks's work with the National Trust and Cheshire East [5.8,5.9] has led to significant changes in their interpretive practice. Tatton Park manager Caroline Schofield distributed Brooks's M&L article to room stewards and visitors and blogged on the new insights generated by the project. Brooks brokered the digitisation of unique Purcell sources at Tatton (2010), and arranged permanent loan of an 1817 Dettmer square piano (2011), changing both house display and events. Brooks collaborated with Schofield for Tatton's Christmas 2011 opening (7-11 December 2011), preparing music from the Tatton collection for staff and students from the Royal Northern College of Music, who performed for 2472 visitors during the week. Southampton and RNCM mounted a public masterclass on historical singing practice using the Tatton repertory, attended by c500 visitors. Of the 320 surveyed, 58 identified the live music as the most enjoyable aspect ('enjoyed authenticity of music'; '[the highlight was] real people playing real old instruments') [5.9]. The Tatton Park business plan for 2013-17 explicitly includes further exploitation of our music research findings to enhance visitor experience [5.9].

With funding from Tatton Park Trust and the AHRC, Brooks produced four short films on domestic music for Tatton's Heritage Lottery 'Hidden Histories' project, aimed at bringing to life the activities of former residents [5.10]. Completed July 2013, the films are now used on tablet devices by visitors to the house and streamed through the Tatton Park website and YouTube. The films are designed to be useable at other properties of the same vintage, and have been distributed through the National Trust to curators and visitor experience consultants nationwide.

Brooks's research featured in the 2012 Tatton Park Biennial (12 May-30 September 2012, 280,000 visitors; 37,680 to the Music Room), generating the first musical works for this international contemporary art event. Brooks collaborated with filmmaker Aura Satz and composer Larry Goves on Sound Ornaments in the Music Room (SOMR), an installation responding to Tatton's architecture and the instruments and scores of former residents [5.11]. Brooks supplied music, images and historical information, and mounted performances that produced raw digital and sound material for the work. Brooks's work created impact for Tatton staff and Biennial visitors as well as the artists: SOMR's relationship with Southampton research was explained in 'Interpreting the Archives', an exhibition of the original musical materials with descriptive text by Schofield and Tatton volunteers, and SOMR featured in the family learning pack distributed to visitors. Reviews in international art media singled out the piece: Creative Times called it a 'moment to savour' and The Lady praised its close engagement with the house's history. Brooks curated the 2012 Biennial's concluding event (29/09/12), a live installation for which she selected the music from Tatton's collection and supplied raw materials for two further newly commissioned works, a collaboration between Aura Satz and Southampton staff member Jane Chapman and a work by Leo Grant, which were premiered during the event. The audience of 70 included music lovers who had not previously visited Tatton, art enthusiasts and heritage tourists. Written feedback included: 'A vibrant and colourful addition to the Biennial! It is a real pleasure to hear the instruments played in this fantastic setting. More concerts would be much appreciated!' 'I really enjoyed listening to old and new compositions, especially in these different acoustics. It created a completely different atmosphere, unusual to most concert spaces' [5.9].

Southampton's music research has engendered a significant shift in attitude among heritage partners, representing an important contribution to the £26 billion pa the sector brings to the UK economy. The National Trust's Head Librarian Mark Purcell wrote, 'We are all guilty of deluding ourselves that the Trust knows more about its properties than it really does, but it is striking how little attention we had given to the history of music and music-making in them until recently', pointing to Southampton initiatives as an exciting new way of bringing National Trust soundscapes to life [5.12]. In 2012 Brooks and PGRs showcased Southampton's work at the NT national plenary for 150 senior heritage managers. Unsolicited email reactions include 'What a triumph the performance at Blickling was — all my colleagues were abuzz about it afterwards!' (James Rothwell, regional curator); 'Well-researched musical performances are exactly what we have been lacking in Trust spaces for as long as I can remember!' (Ylva Dahnsjo, regional conservator); 'The performances were a revelation' (Katy Lithgow, national head conservator) [5.13]. Subsequently we have secured further joint funding for musical research at the NT's Mottisfont (2 AHRC awards 2013-16); we are collaborating with JAHM on music facsimiles for sale in their shop; and 2013-14 sees the launch of a new research-led concert series at CHL, with the first concert by Norris in December 2013. The continued enthusiasm of heritage partners for our research confirms they have become newly sensitive to the importance of music, both to the history of their properties and as a component of their current practices of interpretation and display.

Sources to corroborate the impact

5.1 Louise West, Curator, Jane Austen's House Museum (work on the Austen music books)



5.4 Stephen Lawrence, Director, Chawton House Library (collaboration with CHL)

(Optomen Television and BBC 2, Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball)


5.7 (Daily Mail account including films of Norris)

5.8 David Adshead, Head Curator, National Trust (collaboration with the National Trust)

5.9 Caroline Schofield, Mansion and Collections Manager, Tatton Park, Cheshire Council East (collaboration at Tatton Park, including visitor stats and written feedback)

5.10 Park Hidden Histories, 'Music's Hidden Histories'films)

5.11 (description and clips from Sound Ornaments in the Music Room, reviews)

5.12 Mark Purcell, 'Adding the missing soundscape: new research into the Trust's unexplored treasure house of printed music,' National Trust Arts, Buildings & Collections Bulletin [ABC Bulletin] Summer 2010: 6-7.

5.13 email correspondence.