Finally! – a literary account of music lessons

The problem with my research project is that it does not led itself to efficient searches. As I have been browsing through the Chawton House Library catalogue, I could type into the search engine ‘music’ or ‘singing’ even ‘lessons’ but this will bring up items I am not really looking for. What I mean by this is that music manuals and ‘how to books’ will typically crop up and while I am very interested in female music teachers of the 18th century, I am not really looking for more on the ‘master’s perspective’ of the music lesson. These are always used as the main basis for understanding the development of music education in this period, but I am looking for something a little more…deep, for lack of a better term. I want to know more about the difficulties of learning to play, sing and understand music. Why did people think it was important, or not important? Why did young ladies start to learn and continue to learn music? I want to know more about those heart to hearts that students and teachers had in the lesson environment. However, to find this information I have to read a lot of novels. I have joked at this being a lovely, onerous task, but it can be really frustrating to read through a number of novels where music might appear in the briefest of mentions.

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To my delight, I came across a novel today that not only talks about the experience of a music lesson but both the teacher and student are women. In the 1815 novel entitled Zeluca; Or, Educated and Uneducated Women the title character is the epitome of an educated woman. The novel opens with a conversation between Zeluca’s mother and her governess, who is being dismissed as Zeluca is no longer in need of her services as her mother plans to superintend her studies. This spurred my memory of reading Gesualdo Lanza’s music manuals, which were designed to be used without the assistance of a master. Rather a parent could acts as superintendents of their children’s music education with his book. I had found this unusual at the time I was looking at it, but I have now come across a few references to parents taking over the supervision or only ever being responsible for their children’s education.

Lanza’s Elements of Music, 1819

Back to the novel! If Zeluca is the educated woman, her friend Marianne represents the ‘uneducated woman’. Her brother had managed to teach her some grammar, a little French and he had even purchased a second-hand harp lute to allow her to learn ‘her notes’ but ‘that was the sum total of her accomplishments’.


Zeluca, seeing Marianne’s interest in music sets out to become her instructress. She requests a piano to be sent and set up to allow the instruction to begin and Marianne notes that her tutor rarely allowed a day to go past without a lesson. Lessons took place each morning over a lengthy period, but this all comes to a crashing end when another young lady comments of their playing together. Mrs Bessaly who seems to be complimenting Zeluca’s teaching comments that Marianne executed her part just as well as her instructress. From that point on, the instruction ceases as Zeluca fears Marianne has become as accomplished as she, but this is very much to Marianne’s disappointment.


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Exercises for Ladies, Donald Walker, 1837 


Though I have paraphrased the passage, much is learned about the dynamics of the music lesson that can been seen in a traditional manual. Zeluca is keen and determined to instruct Marianne and through this determination her pupil excels in her musical abilities. But, rather than seeing Marianne’s progress as evidence of her skills in teaching, after her students proficiency is compared to her own she fears that she has austen pianoimparted all her knowledge. Morning lessons take place daily, which seems to have been the common time for music lessons during the period. Mrs Gooch, as discussed in a previous post, received lessons from Rauzzini each morning and even Jane Austen used to practice piano in the morning.

Later, in another conversation with a different character the complexities of obtaining music lessons is revealed. Marianne is ridiculed for not receiving lessons from a known master and that she would never be able to amount to any sort of fame through music. But Marianne explains that she liked receiving instruction for ‘the pleasure’ alone and not for the hope of fame. This passage links together all of the expectations of women throughout this period. They were to be knowledgeable, without appearing to study. They were to be accomplished, without practicing. Their education was apparent but never visible. It is not just a discussion of music education, but music is a perfect example of the difficulties a woman faced in attaining an acceptable level of ability. Music is an odd bridge between accomplished lady and working woman – a line that several ladies of a certain class were careful to tread.

This is a beautiful example of the dynamics of music education between a student and her ‘instructress’ as it ties so many strands together. I better read to the end of the book to find out what happens to Zeluca and Marianne’s friendship!


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