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Long lost music book owned by Jane Austen recovered

Harpsicord with sheet music

Steve Heap | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 07/12/23

The book was finally discovered among the possessions of Austen's great-niece, Jenyth Worsley, who passed away in 2023.

A long lost book of sheet music that once belonged to famed author Jane Austen has been rediscovered after 45 years. The book, Domenico Corri’s Select Collection of Choice Music for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte (c.1790), was found among the possessions of a distant relative of Austen’s who passed away earlier this year, and it was identified by the author’s signature within the inside cover.

Chawton House reports that the book in question was originally kept with a collection of music books owned by the Austen family at Chawton House. This was the home of Austen’s older brother Edward Austen Knight, which was sold in the 1990s to a trust that restored the 16th-century abode and converted it to a research center. Its library of an estimated 9,000 books is focused on English women’s literature from 1600 to 1830.

The last time the music book was consulted was in 1978, by 20th-century composer Patrick Piggot, but it was no longer found in the collection when classical musician Jon A. Gillaspie sought to view the book in 1987. A 2016 project to digitize the collection, conducted by the University of Southampton, would later list the book as “lost.” That is, until the death of Jenyth Worsley, great-niece of Jane Austen.

The book was found among the possessions of Worsley, who grew up in Chawton House. Worsley, a composer of classical music, was known for her work with BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in the 1960s. At some point after 1978, Worsley gained possession of the book, although it is unknown to what purpose she put it. It is also unknown if she had purposefully kept the book apart from the collection, or if she had simply forgotten to return it. 

Charlotte Hatfield and Joanna Worsley, executors of Jenyth’s will, recalled Jenyth as an “extraordinary woman” with artistic talents comparable to Austen. They said they were surprised to find the book among her things, but they remembered how much Jenyth treasured her memories of Chawton House. It was due to this connection that they have donated the book to the Chawton House. 

Emma Yandle, Curator of Chawton House, noted that this music book’s value to history is much greater than the others, as it contains a page of sheet music that was damaged and replaced with a hand-written sheet. This sheet is suspected to have been copied by Jane Austen herself

“It’s hard to convey the feeling of turning the page and coming across that unmistakable signature of one of literature’s most beloved figures. Upon examination, I found a missing page replaced with a hand-written copy of the music, which we believe is Jane Austen’s own hand. This surprising discovery makes the volume even more special, bringing us closer to Jane Austen’s world at home on the piano. The volume bears the stamp, ‘Chawton House, Alton, Hants’ so it’s wonderful to see it returned to its former home.”

Chawton House is preparing to display the book from July 14-16 for the weekend of its 20th anniversary. Visitors will be able to get an up-close look at the music book, as well as other significant works of the collection. Learn more at the Chawton House website.

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