A Double Birthday

Jane Austen

December 16th is celebrated in the literary world as the birthday of English author Jane Austen. She was born on this date in 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, where her father was the rector.

In the musical world, this same date is often commemorated as the birthday of composer Ludwig van Beethoven. His exact date of birth is unknown, but he was baptised on December 17, 1770, and scholars have made best guesses. Considering his presumed birthday buddy, I cannot think of a better day to celebrate his birth as well.

Ludwig van Beethoven

These two people, close in age but a world apart, stand as luminaries in their artistic fields. Love her or hate her (but really, love her), Jane Austen’s wit, keen eye, and brilliant prose, defined an era in English literature. Oh, to be in possession of a pen that could produce some of her zingers! Likewise, what would music be without Beethoven? I am hard pressed to state my favourite composer, but Beethoven is going to feature on pretty much any list I produce. His music bridged the Classical and Romantic eras of music, bringing form and precision into perfect harmony with the more personal and dramatic style of the later 19th century.

Here is an excerpt from the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, where Georgiana Darcy sits down at the pianoforte to entertain the guests at Pemberley. She is said to play the harp and the keyboard and has just received a new pianoforte as a gift from her brother. The piece she plays is Beethoven’s Andante favori in F major. It was originally meant to be the middle movement of the Waldstein sonata, opus 53 (1803), but upon realising the movement was too long for that work, he turned it into an independent piece.

https://youtu.be/_GHm4MK6F1Y?t=83

One thought on “A Double Birthday

  1. Trish Butler says:

    Thanks, Riana Everly, for letting me post this excerpt here. Helena Andrews and Nathaniel Ackley meet for the first time (maybe) at a dinner party, after which she sings Leonore’s aria…

    Genevieve watched as Helena and Harriet walked towards the pianoforte to a light smattering of applause. Harriet settled herself on the stool while Helena stood at her side, ready to sing. The two women looked at one another, each waiting for the other to speak. In a series of nods and squeaks, they seemed to be communicating. The colonel appeared to find this amusing as he smothered his snorting laugh with his hand, pretending to rub his chin. Genevieve reached over and pinched his upper arm, and could not keep from smiling when his surprised ouch drew all eyes to him.
    The diversion allowed Helena to compose herself and find her voice. “This is Leonore’s aria and will be sung in German. It is from Beethoven’s opera, Leonore. Leonore’s husband is wrongfully imprisoned, and she dresses as a man to pose as a guard and set him free.”
    As Genevieve anticipated, her friend looked mainly at her as she spoke. Earlier that evening, Helena had explained that she thought it might help her nerves to look at a friendly face, but now, as she began to sing, her gaze moved slightly to Gennie’s right. Helena stared at the colonel who, to Genevieve’s mind, seemed enraptured, staring right back. Genevieve thought him fortunate that everyone was focused on the performers and did not notice his dazed expression. Gennie fondly recalled her first dinner at Eastease, when she had played and sung for Alexander in this very room. His look had been remarkably similar to the one she now saw on the colonel’s face.
    Just as Nathaniel was beginning to appreciate the improved talent of his cousin, Mrs. Andrews raised her voice in song. He stared at her, utterly mesmerised, for she was looking directly at him. My God, the woman’s voice was glorious, her range incredible, and she seemed lost in the character of Leonore, who was rescuing her husband. Being fluent in German, he appreciated how Mrs. Andrews showed nervousness over what Leonore was doing, the love she expressed for the man she hoped to save, and the duty she felt in rescuing him. As she sang, he translated her words in his mind:
    Abominable one! Where are you going?
    What will you do? What will you do in wild anger?
    The call of sympathy,
    The voice of humanity,
    Does nothing move your tiger sense?
    Like turbulent seas,
    Anger and hatred rage in your soul,
    So appears to me a rainbow,
    That bright on dark clouds rests.
    A quiet gaze,
    So peaceful,
    That mirrors old times,
    And new appeased my blood flows.
    Please, hope, let the last star, the last star,
    From fatigue not fade!
    Please, illuminate, illuminate my destiny, even if it’s far,
    Love will reach it. Love will reach it. Love will reach it.
    O please, hope, let the last star,
    From fatigue not fade!
    Illuminate, illuminate my destiny, even if it’s far, even if it’s far,
    Love, love will reach it. Love, love will reach it.
    I follow an inner drive,
    I will not waver,
    My duty strengthens me,
    My duty of true marital love.
    I will not waver,
    My duty strengthens me,
    My duty of true marital love.
    O you, for whom I bore everything,
    If only I could be at your side,
    Where evil has you bound,
    And bring you sweet comfort!
    O you, for whom I bore everything,
    If only I could be at your side,
    Where evil has you bound,
    And bring you sweet comfort!
    I follow an inner drive
    I will not waver
    My duty strengthens me
    My duty of true marital love.
    I follow an inner drive,
    I will not waver,
    I follow an inner drive,
    I will not waver,
    My duty strengthens me,
    My duty of true marital love.
    Swept away by Helena’s words and beauty, Nathaniel held her gaze through the entire piece. All too soon, the music ended, and she glanced away as the room erupted in applause. He felt suddenly bereft, as though he had lost an intimate connection. Harker, of course, was standing and loudly applauding Harriet. Brooks was overdoing it, trying to catch Mrs. Andrews’ attention, and Mr. Ridgefield was, as always, enthusiastic. But Nathaniel could only sit there transfixed.
    “Would you like me to pinch you again, Ackers?” Genevieve inquired quietly. That brought him out of his stupor. He started to clap as everyone else was stopping.

    Liked by 1 person

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