Music on Christmas Morning

Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton

Those who have read my two novels (A House Near Luccoli and To A Strange Somewhere Fled) know how integral music is to their language, stories, rhythm, sensibilities and characters. My third historical fiction, which is nearing completion, focuses on another area of the arts: writing. However, I couldn’t avoid, nor did I want to, the importance of music in the life of its main protagonist, Anne Brontë, youngest sister of Charlotte and Emily.

My vision for Without the Veil Between was to explore and expand the “asides” of Anne’s life in and out of the context of the more familiar Brontë narrative: one being her love of music.

At an early age, along with her siblings, she was taken by her father to concerts performed by the Haworth Operatic Society and in nearby Keighley. In the mid-1830s Reverend Brontë surprised his children by purchasing an upright cabinet piano made by John Green of Soho Square, London.

Piano in Patrick Bronte's study in Haworth Parsonage

Piano in Patrick Bronte’s study in Haworth Parsonage

Their father arranged for them to have a few lessons at the parsonage, but mostly they were self-taught. Emily, whom Anne was extremely close to, is said to have been the most accomplished pianist in the family. Charlotte’s friend (and to them all) Ellen Nussey wrote of Emily playing “with brilliance and precision.”

“Come on.” Emily dropped the shoes she had seemed so desperate to find and, not allowing Anne to put on hers, pulled her sister out of the rocking chair.
“What?”
“It’s time for Mendelsohn.”
“On the piano? It’s almost eleven.”
“Who’s to mind?”
With their father and Charlotte away, Emily couldn’t be stopped from opening the windows in almost every room and occupying herself on the cottage piano in the Reverend’s study any time she pleased. Yet Anne, who rarely went out of the house without Emily and then only into the front garden or the church to refresh the flowers by the pulpit, hadn’t heard Emily playing, not even the music Anne had given her for her birthday.
“You’ve been practicing. But when?”
“In the wee hours, as lightly as I walk about.”
“Oh. That explains—” Anne didn’t reveal her entire thought, standing to the side and holding the flickering light that illuminated the sheets Emily hardly needed to look at. She wondered how in the dark of a new day with a candle placed precariously on the corner of the piano’s lid, Emily managed to follow the score well enough to commit it to memory as well as perfecting by heart how gracefully and unpretentiously it sang without words. Anne heard it then as she had in her dreams, something of William in its wordlessness, something of herself in its longings, something almost tender about Emily that except in her constant forgiveness of Keeper might otherwise never be revealed.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
auldlang

Auld Lang Sang as copied by Anne Bronte

Anne also played, as Ellen Nussey claimed, preferring “soft melodies and vocal music. She sang a little; her voice was weak, but very sweet in tone.” As a governess, Anne gave music and singing lessons, purchasing much of the music herself. At home, in June 1843, on a brief holiday from her position at Thorpe Green, she began copying her favorite music into a blank notebook she had probably purchased on a visit to York with her employers, the Robinsons, spending a fairly substantial sum in relation to her earnings.

Anne was on the second page of filling the music manuscript book she had only counted on costing her three shillings and six pence, not the favorable opinion of her favorite sister. Her last trip to York, longer than when she and Branwell had met their father there and this time sanctioned for shopping, allowed Anne almost two hours away from the Misses Robinsons. While they spent their time and money on dresses, hats, and confections, Anne browsed a bookstore newly opened in the cathedral city, considering any expenditure carefully. She finally settled on two purchases: a German dictionary and a prettily-bound book for music copying that would also aid in her teaching, if only to Mary who showed an interest in and some talent for singing—more of a justification than reason for buying it. Anne wanted to make the music she loved compactly portable, even without access to a pianoforte available for performances—in her head, preferably so, for then her fingers were agile and her voice wasn’t weak.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
The Shambles, York

The Shambles, York

Anne’s brother, Branwell, also had musical ability and played the organ from time to time for services in the Haworth Parish church. Unfortunately, none of his talents, including writing and painting, could override his self-pitying, self-destructive personality, which spiraled him into deadly addictions to drink and drugs.

(William’s) arm around her brother’s shoulder assured Branwell that his return to the organ wasn’t spoiled by him losing his place in the processional hymn All Praise to Our Redeeming Lord and struggling with uncertain pedaling and clumsy fingering in Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.
“In the end, my friend, you found your way,” William’s cheeks were almost crimson, little streaks of sweat on them, “with Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal.”
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
Haworth Church and Parsonage

Haworth Church and Parsonage

I try not to project myself into any historical person I write about, hoping to understand and interpret him/her as objectively and historically accurate as possible. However, fiction (and even biographies) beg some subjectivity in order to go deeper than the facts and explore, for example, his/her motivations, hesitations, impulses and emotions. Although I chose to write about Anne, I never expected to feel such affinity with her on so many levels (actually, the more I researched and wrote on this novel that, of course, has among its cast of characters Charlotte and Emily, the more I connected to each of the Brontë sisters, but that is a post for another time).

One of the ways I related to Anne was in how her creative talents affected her life as she developed as a writer. Writing became her work, her vocation:  she knew it was her most significant means of expression if not her easiest. It involved much of her time, and, also, her mental, emotional and even physical energy, didn’t come easy, was often frustrating and misunderstood. She had to do it, no matter the trials it put her through, and it seems there were times, especially in the composing of her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, that she was nearly buried in it.

As her sister Charlotte wrote in a letter: ‘I would fain hope that (Anne’s) health is a little stronger than it was – and her spirits a little better, but she leads much too sedentary a life, and is continually sitting stooping either over a book or over her desk – it is with difficulty one can prevail on her to take a walk or induce her to converse.’

In contrast music and art and Anne’s bond to nature were truly enjoyment, allowing her times when she could look up from her weighty sense of purpose and view a lighter, more leisurely way of being.

Anne Bronte’s unfinished portrait of her dog, Flossy

Anne Bronte’s unfinished portrait of her dog, Flossy

Certainly, in difficult times, such as her years as governess at Blake Hall and then Thorpe Green, including Branwell’s disastrous stint as tutor at the latter location, music was a relaxing and pleasant pastime that interrupted Anne’s struggles with her health, duties, and worry and embarrassment over her brother’s behavior.

Like at the Spa in Scarborough, during one of her summer holidays there with her employers, the Robinson’s …

Nothing was more calming to her lungs than sitting among other reverent music lovers—which Elizabeth and Lydia were not—in the Spa’s turreted Saloon, melting into a Mozart symphony, an air by Weber, and a Rossini overture, her spirit warmed even more than her body. At least, as the music swelled and soothed and satisfied, she was unaware of any physical discomfort from the afternoon’s rising temperature let alone her earlier asthma episode.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
The Spa, Scarborough, Yorkshire

The Spa, Scarborough, Yorkshire

Or on a sultry first day of rush-bearing, a magnificent Oratorio concert right in Haworth and her own church, St. Michaels and All Angels …

The voice of Mendelssohn’s Christ in three-part chorus rose, not only creating a miraculous sound but also a haloed light.
Anne wanted to be in that moment. Such bountiful music, the church filled with contemplative commentary drawn from the New and Old Testaments, chorales in the manner of Bach, fanfares punctuating more tranquil instrumentals and vocals. It was quite a trick for the orchestra, even reduced as it was, to fit in-between the altar and audience, the violins arranged around the cellos and violas, the strings in front of the winds, and the brass elevated at the very back. The choir was in front of the instrumentalists, sopranos and tenors on the right, mezzo sopranos, altos and bases on the left.
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
Rushbearing 1821

Rush-bearing 1821

Or during an impulsive trip to London with Charlotte, which as unexpectedly found her at the opera in Covent Garden …

Enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about critics or how you must answer them, or Papa or Emily or Branwell … or anything to disturb the wonder of this unexpected adventure
She didn’t think Mr. Williams, as he glanced at her, was reading her thoughts but, instead, wanted to witness her enthusiastic participation in the custom of applauding for the conductor as he quickly stepped into the pit, took his place and a bow, and turned to prompt the orchestra’s tuning up.
There was some movement behind the curtain, the footlights seeming to burn brighter as Anne’s attention focused on the stage. “This is beyond my dreams. Beyond what I deserve.” She lifted her hands to her cheeks, afraid they were flushed, as Mr. Williams might assume, with pleasure and embarrassment, but, as couldn’t be helped, really just the warmth and closeness of the theater.
“Oh, Miss Brontë, you’re more than worthy to be here.” Mr. Williams was prompted by Anne’s admission to make one of his own. “I think you’re a perfect companion for attending the opera, for I suspect you understand how music—”
“Kindly bids us wake. It calls us, with an angel’s voice, to wake, worship, and rejoice.”
Without the Veil Between © 2016 DM Denton
Italian Opera House Covent Garden, London

Italian Opera House Covent Garden, London

Which brings me to Anne’s Music on Christmas Morning, which was included in the poetry anthology she and her sisters published in the spring of 1846. It reflects Anne’s piety and love of music, words and nature, using all to paint a lyrically poignant bridge between heaven and earth.

music-of-christmas-morning-poem-with-holly-border-croped

 

Whether you read this post and Anne’s poem on the morning it was written in honor of, or at any other time, I want to offer my heartfelt appreciation for your visit to my little space in the universe along with wishes for many blessings to be yours in this season however you mark it.

Peace and Love

Please note that the excerpts I offered from my in progress Without the Veil Between, are from its first draft.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Advertisements