Parlor Music

Rather than adhering to the strictest sense of the word ‘Regency’, we’ll use it here in a broader sense to mean the artistic period between the Georgian and Victorian eras. While technically there was only a Prince Regent in England from 1811-1820, we’ll be referring to ‘Regency’ as the era from the late 1790s to Victoria’s crowning in 1837. (This is a common extension of the term when taking a broader view of the social, artistic, and political trends of the time.) In classical music, the early 1800s are considered the beginning of the Romantic era, which spanned the entire 19th century.

Through most of the 19th century, the lines between ‘popular’ and classical music were much more blurred than they are today. A Regency musicale or parlor performance could include a traditional Irish air popularized by Thomas Moore, a piano sonata by Pleyel, a favorite song from a ballad opera, or a setting of a popular dance tune. Later in the century, concerts by the famed ‘Swedish Nightingale’ Jenny Lind would include everything from the technically demanding and showy arias of Italian composer Bellini to a simple version of Robert Burns’ “Coming Through the Rye.”

In the days before gramophones and stereos, people had to create their own music for entertainment and dancing. The homes of upper classes and the gentry would certainly contain a piano, and depending upon the wealth of the family, perhaps an entire room devoted to music and musical instruments. This might include a small standing pedal harp, a parlor guitar, and of course the requisite keyboards.

Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in 1808, “Yes, yes, we will have a pianoforte, as good a one as can be got for 30 guineas, and I will practice country dances, that we may have some amusement for our nephews and nieces, when we have the pleasure of their company.”

It’s important to note that the piano of Jane Austen’s time (and through at least the first part of the 19th century) was a rather different creature than the modern piano we are familiar with today. The pianoforte referred to above would be the Mozart-era instrument. NOT a spinet or harpsichord, the early pianoforte had a softer, clearer tone with less power and a smaller keyboard range. It was not until the 1820s that the keyboard was fully expanded to the 7+ octaves we are familiar with today. Even then, the ‘modern’ piano was seldom seen in the home, being mostly used in concert halls and large hotels, appropriate to its more powerful sound.


Thomas Moore (born 1779 in Dublin) was a close friend of Lord Byron and very popular as a composer and performer in the salons and drawing rooms of the ton.  From 1808 to 1834 his various editions of Irish Melodies were in constant publication. His works enjoyed such widespread success that they are still familiar in this century. The Last Rose of Summer, Believe me if all these Endearing Young Charms, and Oft in the Stilly Night are still sung and their melodies recognized today. By some estimation, he brought in several hundred pounds a year in royalties from his music, and was much in demand as a performer– the original Irish Tenor!

Moore was a devoted friend of Lord Byron, and his literary executor. In one of the great tragedies of the day, he was entrusted with Byron’s memoirs and, in a joint decision with the publisher, burned–yes, BURNED– the memoirs. A month after Byron’s death in 1824, and at the urging of his family, Moore burned the only copy due to its “damningly honest” content.


Meanwhile, here are some resources for Regency & Victorian Parlor Music!

Recommended Listening:

An Italian Songbook: Bellini – Donizetti – Rossini

performed by Cecelia Bartoli & James Levine

Schumann – Scenes from Childhood

Mendelssohn – Songs without Words

Chopin – Ballades and Nocturnes

Late-period Beethoven

Pleyel – Piano concertos

Haydn Concertos

Jane Austen Entertains: Music from her own Library

Lady Caroline’s Regency Romp: Dance music of the early 19th Century

The Regency Ballroom: English Country Dance music from the era of Jane Austen


How to Dance Through Time – The Romance of mid-19th Century Couple Dances by Dancetime Productions

Impromptu – Chopin and novelist George Sand

Recommended Reading:

Jane Austen ~ Almost all her novels have music in them in



Janice GallowayCLARA(the story of Clara and Robert Schumann)

More suggestions? Please leave a comment~

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