Author - Musicologist - Pianist - Inspirational Speaker

Pride and Prejudice 1995 – Enjoying the Music

It has been more than ten years since we have fallen in love with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in their roles as Darcy and Elizabeth, and though five other versions of Pride and Prejudice grace my video shelves, this 1995 presentation, to most of us Janites, is universally acknowledged as the quintessential version. In part, this is due to it’s length of almost six hours that allows the film creators and directors to develop Jane’s characters, to present many details of of the plot, and to be bountiful with the length and numbers of examples of music around which the plot unfolds.

Three kinds of music appear throughout this production. The first is the brilliantly crafted film score composed by Carl Davis that, from the opening moments of the film, draws us into Jane Austen’s world even though the music for the most part cannot be mistaken for the music of an earlier era. The second class of music is that of the English Country Dance that we hear as the Bennets attend various social gatherings. The third type f music is that group of 18th century songs and piano compositions performed by the characters themselves. Examples of vocal music include a beloved, and in this case, a butchered aria by Handel, a song by Hadyn, and a well known opera aria by Mozart. For the piano, and certainly for either original instruments or replicas of the delicate Fortepianos, the repertoire includes a suite by Handel, a Rondo by Hadyn, a Sonata by Mozart, a Sonatina by Clementi, Variations of an Italian Song by Beethoven, and an independent piano piece by Beethoven. All three of these areas of music will be discussed in some detail.

When music is needed to enhance or further the action within the film, it is time for the modern composer to step in and create the necessary background music that brings unity to the film. There are four choices for supplying this kind of incidental music, and to my way of thinking, three of them are dangerous. One is to use the music of the composers of Austen’s time. In that the primary composers contemporary to Jane are Hadyn, Mozart, and Beethoven, the use of their music would overwhelm the delicacy of the dramatization of Jane’s novel and would obliterate the fine line between “background” music and “foreground” music. Choice Number Two recognizes that there were other composers creating music at the end of the 18th century such as Clementi, Hummel, and Cramer, the latter actually mentioned by name in Emma, but since their music is not well known today, there must be a very good reason. Let their works rest in honorable obscurity. Choice Number Three is to allow the necessity for a clever contemporary composer to write totally within the style of the late 18th century and or early 19th century. Why use the imitation when the genuine article is readily available? The fourth choice and by far the safest is to have a contemporary composer emulate rather than imitate the style of the earlier era. Carl Davis, an American-born composer who has worked for decades in England, creating countless scores for British film and TV, has done this most masterfully.

It was when I began to examine the background music for the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice that I became entranced by the sophisticated musicology which enriches the score of this television masterpiece. Everyone recognizes the film title music which is heard while a beautiful piece of embroidery is being executed, yet from the music itself we know the story has something to do with the “Hunt and Chase.” It is for the most part light-hearted, and indeed, the “Hunt for the Mate” is the primary concern of this story. The rapidly paced triple time rhythm implies the Chase, since the rhythm invokes the gallop of horses, and the use of the French horn reminds us of its ancestor the hunting horn. The instrumentation is light, and that feature, coupled with the soaring melodies, emulate the lucidity of much of the music from the late 18th century; though, we are always aware by a twist of phrasing, an unusually long melodic line or a surprising sequence of chords that there is a skilled 20th century composer at the helm.

Part of what adds to the verisimilitude of this music is Davis’s choice of an unusual keyboard instrument which is neither the diamond toned harpsichord nor the golden toned modern piano, but is the transitional link between those two instruments. This is the piano of the Jane Austen’s era that now is called the fortepiano to distinguish it from its predecessor, the harpsichord,and from it’s modern counterpart, the piano as we know it. Rememberthat Jane Austen’s term for the piano is the more formal “pianoforte” which, in her day, was used interchangeably with fortepiano. These early pianos appear in substance as well as in literature in many different sizes. The smaller ones are reasonably portable, whereas the larger grand pianoforte, which would reside in the Great Houses, would be less so though still easier to move than it’s modern equivalant. The fortepiano’s silvery sparkling scales and florid passagework, I.e., the rapiidly executed parts too difficult for Mary Bennet to play, help us to accept this music as though it were of Jane’s period, even though it isn’t.

Full of wit and instrumental humor, another musical example we find in this production is entitled “Canon Collins,” and by that title alone, we are aware of humor coupled with pretentiousness. The piece is not a canon in the strict musical sense of the word, which describes a type of imitative counterpoint, nor is Mr. Collins addressed by the ecclesiastical title of Canon. Yet the use of Canon combines most neatly a parody of musical and churchly high-mindedness. The opening music from the sound track is a brief serene introduction, which sounds like the conclusion of a hymn tune, and it is played most sedately by the strings. Then comes that jaunty, self important theme which we associate with Lizzy’s first suitor, and from it, we know just what kind of a churchman he is. The bassoon has the melody that minces down the scale and ends with a self-important flourish. Alas for this instrument, its name rhymes with buffoon, which is the role it is all too often given.

A stunningly dramatic examplefrom this Carl Davis sound track is labeled “Rosings” on the soundtrack. We hear a series of stately arpeggiated or broken chords in the somber key of C minor, an imperious melodic line decorated with trills and turns, and a strong dotted rhythm with its centuries’ old pattern of Long (wait) Short Long (wait) Short Long etc. What I have just described could have been the opening of a French Overture by Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) written for the Court at Versailles for the aggrandizement of Louis XIV. Through the intervening centuries, this style became a cliche to express wealth, pomp, and power. There could be no better way to depict Lady Catherine de Bourgh than to cloak her in this handsome representation of haughty music from the past. Interestingly enough, the music that represents Darcy exerting his power, as when he orchestrates Lydia’s wedding, is similar to Lady Catherine’s music though it is less florid and showy. It is in the same dark and moody key of c minor, and as with Darcy himself, we hear in the music that his wielding of power is a useful tool rather than a vehicle for shallow display.

A subtle tweaking of the musicological message is in the use of the fortepiano’s grand flourishes and trills which create much of the drama in this French Overture; in its original , the austere sounds of the harpsichord would have been heard. Therefore, the fortepiano is heard as being mildly futuristic in this case! Here I must explain that I owned a fortepiano for ten years and a harpsichord for twice that time, and so am intimately familiar with the voices and personalities of these two instruments.

So far, I have mentioned that the Davis score touches upon music of the Baroque Era, the era of the French Overture, Bach, and Handel, as well as that of the Classical Era of Hadyn and Mozart, In my most recent listening, I found out he hints at the early Romantic Era as oassages sounding much like Schubert make their appearance. Though Schubert was beginning tocompose at the time Jane Austen died, most people, wise to the change of one era to another, have not used his music within the world of Jane Austen’s films. It was to be the music of the future, and Davis more than hints at this in his Schubertian passages, which are played in tandem with the pounding of the coach horses’ hooves as Lizzy leaves the Collins and ponders Darcy’s first proposal. Another similar passage is strikingly effective as the backdrop to Lizzy’s musings while she is enjoying observing England’s bucolic countryside laid out before her. It should be mentioned that Schubert, who, like Beethoven, wrote during the time the Classical Era was ending and the Romantic Era was beginning, was known for evoking images of nature in his music. So Davis has touched upon and drawn upin the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary eras in music history, which span from the mid 1600s to the Present. Though it is tempting to surmise that shades of Hadyn, Mozart, and Beethoven would have complained at having their compositions arranged and altered for use as background music, I think they would have approved of the delicate instrumentation, memorable melodies, and consummate craftsmanship of the Davis score.

Here are some brief observations on the second category of music I mentioned at the beginning, which is that of the music supplied for English Country Dancing. Some of these dances predate Jane Austen’s time, and others appeared in the early 19th century. As we know from partaking in Country Dancing in Tucson since the AGM last October, these tunes, such as “The Comical Fellow” and “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” are into their third century of bringing pleasure listening ears and dancing feet. By the way, a “maggot” is nothing about which to be squeamish. It means a “fancy” or a dance, in that case, created by Mr. Beveridge, a dancing master. For the English dancing, a single tune is used for each dance, and it may be played fourteen times in a row! No wonder the practice of improvising a series of variations was favored for this type of music. Certainly the repetitive nature of the music made it a suitable backdrop for Lizzy and Darcy’s first civil conversation. Some of these dance melodies are Elizabethan, which means they predated Jane Austen by two hundred years, just as she predates us by the same span of two centuries!

In the excellent booklet which accompanies the tenth anniversary deluxe edition of the DVD of Pride and Prejudice, Carl Davis mentions in an interview that he handpicked all of the piano pieces performed by Mary and Lizzy Bennet, Miss Bingley, and Georgiana Darcy. Actually, Davis, himself a pianist, recorded all of the music that the “girls” play. Mary’s labored performance, Lizzy’s ingenious playing, and Miss Bingley’s shallow execution were all masterfully performed in such a way so to give an increased insight into Jane’s characters.

Davis does not itemize the specific pieces, but fortunately I know all of them from my almost thirty years of teaching piano! I will also link all of the composers to England and therefore to Jane’s world:

Disc I, Chapter 3

Mary plays the “Harmonious Blacksmith” at Lucas Lodge.

This set of variations, originally written for the harpsichord by G. F. Handel, si the final movement of his Suite No. 5 in E major. The Suite is a multi-movement work whose sections or movements are based for the most part on dances of the 17th century. This suite concludes with a Theme and Variations, the deservedly famous “Harmonious Blacksmith.” The music of Handel was popular in England since the composer (1685-1759) born in Germany, trained in Italy, had lived in England for years, where he wrote most of his operas and beloved oratorios such as The Messiah. It should be noted that though the music of Handel would have been known during Jane Austen’s era, that of his more famous contemporary, Johann Sebastian Bach, was not generally known until 1829.

Disc I, Chapter 6

Miss Bingley plays the opening of Haydn’s “Gypsy Rondo.”

Haydn is an excellent composer to use for the Jane Austen films. The most important reason is that we know that Jane Austen, and excellent pianist herself, knew one of the Haydn piano sonatas. She copied it, all three movements, into a notebook, and even though it is known to have some copying errors, it should be remembered she did not have access to a copying machine or a scanner! By the end of the 18th century, Franz Josef Haydn (1723-1809) was known as “Papa Haydn” the most famous living composer. He traveled to England at least two times in the 1790s, and in 1791 he was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Music for which he wrote his Oxford Symphony. He always signed himself as Dr. Haydn after that. Jane could have known of this since her father was an alumnus of Oxford University.

Disc I, Chapter 8

Mary plays “Nel cor piu non mi sento” at the Philips’ home.

The melody, when sung in its original operatic form, is light-hearted and humorous, though when it is played painfully under tempo by Mary, it sounds rather plaintive. The aria is from an opera by Paisiello (1740-1816) an Italian composer known throughout the Courts of Europe especially for comic operatic works. The text states: Love is driving me crazy. It bites and pinches me. Pity! Beethoven wrote a set of variations for paino on this theme, and it is in this form both as a solo piano piece and in a version for piano and orchestra, probably fashioned for the film, that we hear this aria.

Disc I, Chapter 11

Mary sings the end of Handel’s “Largo” from Xerxes

Mary likes the music of Handel and in this case turns to one of the best known arias. From the opening note we know Mary’s voice gives more pain than pleasure, yet in spite of that, the lovely aria continues. The music is slightly muted while conversations take place in the foreground, and when the talking ceases, all we hear is the ending with its climactic high note – alas, strangled in Mary’s inexperienced throat. “Slumber dear Maid, Green bows will cover thee…” has little to do with the original text “Ombra mai fu” which is a hymn of praise to a plane tree. Never was the shade of any plant so dear and sweet.

Disc I, Chapter 11

Mary starts “My Mother Bids me Bind My Hair” by Haydn.

Thanks to Mr. bennet, Mary does not have the chance to sing more than the first couple of lines of this song by Haydn: “My mother bids me bind my hair with bands of rosy hue.” The piano part is an example of picture painting in music since the quality of flowing hair is clarly described, though we don’t hear that in Mary’s version.

Disc I, Chapter 11

Miss Bingley puts down with Mozart’s “Turkish Rondo.”

Mis bingley rattles off the beginning of the final and most famous movement of Mozart’s Sonata in A major, K 331. The “Turkish Rondo” or as it is known as “Alla Turca,” is a fine example of Mozart’s handful of works written in the Turkish style. In this piece the Turkish element is in the ephemeral short phrases in the minor mode followed by changes of tonality and the percussive “strumming” effect in the left hand under the right hand melody in the major key. Miss Bingley plays the piece too fast and ina flashy shallow manner as though to show Mary what fine playing ought to be.

Disc I, Chapter 14

“God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” is played during Christmas at the Philips’ home

This is an old London tune and carol; some versions date back to the 16th century.

Disc I, Chapter 17

At Rosings Lizzy plays the end of the opening movement of K. 331.

The same Mozart piano sonata, which ends with the “Turkish Rondo,” begins with a magnificent Theme and Variations. One does not need a flashy technique for the beginning of this work, and though Lizzy’s performance is ever so slightly flawed, as she knows, her musicianship and sensitivity shine through enough to delight Mr. Darcy. Lizzy plays some pleasing arpeggiated chords while she and Darcy talk. I’m not sure if that is just improvisation to keep the fingers busy, or whether it is the opening of another piece. Mozart (1756-1791), it should be noted, spent his childhood between the ages of six and eighteen with travel and concert tours throughout Europe. In 1764 when he was eight years old, he lived with his family in London for over a year. Some of his earliest manuscripts are in the British Museum. He performed before King George III who actually recognized and acknowledged him even though he, Mozart, was not wearing Court clothing!

Disc 2, Chapter 7

At Pemberlay Lizzy sings a Mozart aria

An English version of “Voy che Sapete” is what Lizzy sings while she accompanies herself. The original is from The Marriage of Figaro, and its message is: You ladies, who know about love, tell me if I am feeling it. This aria has been a favorite with young voice students for the past two hundred years. When the party disbands, Darcy wanders through his great house. An orchestrated version of this music plays in his thoughts and translates to us as love-thoughts of Lizzy.

Disc 2, Chapter 7

Georgina plays Beethoven’s “Andante Favori.”

Georgiana Darcy, according to the book, plays both the harp and the pianoforte. Lizzy learns of Darcy’s generosity on hearing of the beautiful new instrument he has given his sister. The choice of Beethoven is apt since by 1812, England was second to Austria in its consumption of Beethoven’s scores, thanks in part to former keyboard virtuoso and present entrepreneur, Clementi, who became Beethoven’s publisher in England. The work in question now stands as an independent solo for piano. It was originally intended as the slow movement for the mighty “Waldstein” sonata op. 53, written in 1803. Beethoven was told his work was too long, and when he realized his critics were correct, he turned the slow movement into an independent work and substituted in the sonata’s amazing slow movement, which in itself is not complete but purposely creates a bridge between the complex first and third movements. There is one chord that Georgiana plays which is not in Beethoven’s score. Is that Maestro (1770-1827) cringing? The rogue chord makes perfect sense. When the name of Mr. Wickham is introduced into the conversation, Georgiana plays a dissonant chord that is, if you will, carefully orchestrated “wrong notes.” This chord reveals her distress and embarrassment on hearing Mr. Wickham’s name, and since that “sordid” story has been hearsay up to this point, Georgina’s reactions tell us she has not forgotten the incident. It should be remembered that since the tone of the fortepiano is much softer than the modern piano, people could carry on a conversation during a performance, and the Austen novels are filled with such references. Alas for the girls who have to play while the gossips chatter. The scene at Pemberty does remind us that in spite of Miss Bingley’s rudeness in talking through Georgina’s performance, music was an important part of the entertainment.

Disc 2, Chapter 8

Georgiana plays part of Clementi’s Sonata op. 36 no. 4

Born in Italy, Clementi (1752 – 1832) was brought to London at the age of fourteen, and in 1775, the year of Jane Austen’s birth, he made his debut as a virtuoso harpsichordist. His music would have been quite well known, then as now, and to this day, many pianists at the beginning and intermediate levels play his sonatinas, Though this slow movement from the fourth sonatina seems too simple for someone of Georgiana’s expertise, it is used as pleasant background music and therefore is fitting. Its wistful mood is even more appropriate when set as background to Miss Bingley’s remarks to Mr. Darcy regarding his possible pining for Elizabeth Bennet.

Disc 2, Chapters 14 and 15

Mary plays “Nel cor piu non mi sento” at Longbourn

This music with an added gentle orchestration makes a quiet backdrop to a collage of domestic scenes from Bennet’s daily life. Later, Mary still struggles with the music but in a quiet way. The placidity of the piece is in contrast with the growing tension as Jane and her mother await the return of Mr. Bingley into their lives. Knowing the text, one does wonder if love will ever nibble at her and pinch Mary as it is doing to her elder sisters.

Three distinctive words of music add atmosphere to the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. When you watch it again from start to finish, savor the sounds of the fortepiano, the piano of the 1790’s, as it speaks from within the background music scored in the 1990’s. Watch and smile at some of the methods and composition and orchestration that portray Collin’s pomposity and Lady Catherine’s arrogance, as clearly do Jane Austen’s verbal diction of these characters. Listen to the country dance music, and then look for your Soprano recorder, flute, or violin, which may have lain hidden for years. Read through books of 18th century piano music. You will find the very same works by Haydn, Mozart, Clementi, and Beethoven that are played throughout the film and that Jane Austen herself may have played. As the music illuminates and enhances, the plot, ENJOY!

©2018 Janne Irvine | Visit Janne on Facebook

tucson website design by Arizona Computer Guru