Becoming Georgiana: Music at Chatsworth
I can’t remember the last time I did not have a Jane Austen novel nearby. I relate with every character, every story, every hardship. I live and breathe Austenland. And sometimes, I am rewarded for my dedication. I am on my way to Chatsworth house. 'Pemberley' Hall. Mansion of my dreams. Etc.
We, my travel companion/boyfriend Jochanan and I, take an adventure in transit as the house lies a distance into the countryside away from the village of ‘Chesterfield’ and rather closer to the village ‘Baslow’. Details, details. I’m sure my volcan grip on poor Jochanan’s hand as we slowly approached the Chatsworth park perimeter will forever leave nerve damage. He should have known better.
From Baslow, one must commute approximately 15 minutes to get to the actual house itself. We walk along a long muddy lane speckled with sheep and other jolly visitors in their wellies until we approach the clearing. It’s as if the sudden daunting appearance of the colossal home beyond the great pines was planned that way. Yes actually. It probably was. Successfully, I note.
I will omit here the part where I run/ jump/ yell/ backflip/ weep upon first sight of Chatsworth.
We buy tickets for the whole sha-bang. House access and outside grounds/gardens access. VIP (or at least that’s how I look at it). We begin our tour in the first great hall with its checkered floors and intricately painted ceiling and gilded EVERYTHING—the one Elizabeth Bennett first encounters as she unexpectedly visits the great homestead. Room after room we ask questions to the informative guides, we touch the stuff labeled ‘do not touch’, and we sit in the chairs labeled ‘upon this-do not sit’. One might argue the signs deceive and thereby coax.
In a great house such as Chatsworth, the occupying family means to exude their wealth and status by way of antiquities and treasures from all over the world. In this case, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire have kept up appearances accordingly. I look in the stone face of Pallas Athena, I peruse the library collection of ‘horse biology’, I admire the English landscape paintings of the home from the last 400 years, I pass by two historic pianos and yearn for their noise. And then it happened.
After babbling on with a guide about the comfort of a certain chair ‘upon which, we could sit’, we round a corner into the impeccably stocked library of Chatsworth. But it’s not the books I see. I see a piano. A grand piano. Eyes start watering, fingers start shaking, the ground below me is no longer steady—mostly because I am sprinting to the Steinway and Sons circa 1900-something-perfect-for-piano-ages. Longingly I turn back to the guide and ask why there is a piano so out in the open, so alone, so quiet…and whether it may be played. I think he says yes as I’m already sitting down, playing. And not just playing. Dying. I’m playing a song from the Pride and Prejudice movie which I have partially memorized. And all of a sudden I’m an accomplished lady in 1800.
Historical comprehension through experience should guide the future of tourism. I’ve never felt so completely engulfed in a place in my entire life. I finish playing and start to hear the applause behind me. There are other people here? This isn’t my house? But it felt like it was. The guide tells me to play more and explains how the Duke brought the piano in so the house could be filled with music.
Most people would be too afraid to play and attract attention to themselves, but where’s the fun in that? The gathering crowd thanked me for bringing such beautiful music as they toured the house and another guide told me it filled the rooms wonderfully. What is more beautiful than an authentic heritage experience? Someone else played piano there 300 years ago with just as much vigor.
In my exalted mood, we finish exploring the house and then continue into the gardens. Muddy footprints, displaced giant boulders, and rough forest paths guide us through a labyrinth of specifically crafted ‘gardens’. The English landscape garden was meant to provide a natural oasis for eager explorers fueled by Romanticism. We continuously stumble upon mazes, rock gardens, statues, ponds, and pine forests dense enough to leave an eerie feeling about the fate of our path. As we finally emerge through miles of walking, we catch the sun setting over Chatsworth.
We leave fulfilled and hungry.
In the end, I took my one chance to play a grand piano at Chatsworth House and I will never forget the change in the atmosphere as soon as music filled its endless passageways. I became a part of its history.