Deborah Yaffe

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Austen-era keyboarding

By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 19 2015 02:00PM

It’s probably impossible for us twenty-first-century folk, with our high-tech communications, advanced medical care and expansive notions of social inclusion, to fully imagine ourselves into the culture of Jane Austen’s time.


Sure, we know intellectually that back then marriage was the only respectable career for a middle-class woman, a cold could quickly morph into a life-threatening illness, and a teenager’s sexual indiscretions might ruin the future prospects of her whole family – but we can’t truly feel what it would have been like to live that way.


All the more reason, then, to embrace those rare opportunities to experience the world as Jane Austen might have. And such an opportunity is about to present itself to lucky Milwaukee Janeites, who will soon have a chance to hear music Austen loved played on instruments that date from her era.


Milwaukee antiques dealer Stewart Dempsey has arranged a series of four Sunday concerts, beginning this weekend, featuring accomplished musicians playing his antique harpsichords and pianofortes. The concerts, with audiences numbering just a few dozen, will take place amid the clocks, sculptures and candelabra in his shop, mimicking the drawing-room concerts of Austen’s day.


The first program will feature music by Handel, Haydn and Koczwara taken from Austen’s own collection and played by the president of the Historical Keyboard Society of North America. (Yes, apparently there is such an organization. We are not the only fandom out there.)


Just in case this whole nineteenth-century-immersion thing is getting too much for you, though: Dempsey has been careful not to schedule a concert on February 1. “He avoided Super Bowl Sunday in case the Packers make it to the championship,” explains the Milwaukee newspaper’s story, “and some Jane Austen fans might face the dilemma of choosing between football or the bestselling author of Sense and Sensibility."


Sorry, Packers fans. At least you'll have the music.



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