The Brontes' Piano

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Singer Catherine Bott explores the Bronte sisters' musical world through their newly restored piano, now returned to the parsonage in Haworth. Joined by pianist Jonathan Cohen, Catherine looks through the Bronte's family music collection and discovers how musical life at the parsonage underscored the sisters' creative life, their work and tastes.

When Charlotte Bronte discovered the poems of her sister Emily, she described them as having "a peculiar music - wild, melancholy and elevating." The Bronte sisters - Charlotte, Emily and Anne - have been mythologized and worshipped ever since their early deaths. Haworth Parsonage, where they and their troubled brother Branwell grew up, has been a place of pilgrimage for 150 years. The Brontes are a literary industry, because we need them to stand as symbols of doomed, rebellious womanhood. And their lives, just as much as their writing, oblige us. They all wrote compulsively from early childhood, creating fantastical worlds in minute writing, moralising verse-tragedies - and Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

But when they made music, they came home from the fantasy lands of Gondal and Angria, to sing and play folk songs (such as Robert Burns' 'Ye Banks and Braes), popular numbers by Haydn, Handel's Harmonious Blacksmith, for their own pleasure, not solely to demonstrate their maidenly accomplishments. The piano their father bought them is still in the Parsonage, recently restored. And their sheet music is still in its drawer. Singer Catherine Bott and pianist Jonathan Cohen go to Haworth, to hold the music in their hands, and recreate a quiet evening at home with Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell. They all lived much of the time in a "wild, melancholy and elevating" world, and that's part of the Bronte myth, but their music-making reminds us of a different side to them - perhaps one that doesn't quite fit with how we want or need them to be.


Producer: Simon Hollis
A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4.
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