Pet Sounds: Grace Hiu-Yan Wong


Pet Sounds: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department reflect on a piece of music or song. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]

Pet Sounds Austen Silhouette.jpg

In September 2013, I visited the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, UK.

It was a modest establishment wedged between a pizzeria and an insurance broker office. Skipping past the Colin Firth postcards and “Future Mrs Darcy” badges in the gift shop, I came across a CD of the original soundtrack to the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which is universally acknowledged as the best.

Four years on, I find myself still playing the “The Gardiners” (track 7) or “Pemberley” (track 14) on my iPod, whether it is to accompany my mundane trips to the supermarket or long tedious bus journeys, or to allow me to escape from gloomy, rainy days.

Yet, out of the many brilliant tracks composed by Carl Davis, I find myself most drawn to “Telling the Truth” (track 12), the background track for Darcy’s letter to Lizzie, in which he reveals his past encounters with Wickham.

A quick breakdown (in layman’s terms – accuracy not guaranteed as I’m looking at this through the eyes of a storyteller, not a musician):

The clear flute theme of Georgiana is introduced at 1:35, her presence announced a few seconds before, the shadowy figure of a young girl, tentative and shy rounding the corner of a room just coming into sight. A darker figure is introduced at 1:42, and at 1:47 we hear more clearly (or rather, less clearly) the shapeshifting character of Wickham – is he a clarinet? A bassoon? A cello or the double bass? Credit to the composer for pinpointing the slipperiness of Wickham’s character, which is elusive, out of reach, and dangerously attractive. At 2:04, we encounter Georgiana’s theme again; she is clearly infatuated, heartbreakingly innocent. Meanwhile, Wickham’s ominously dark tones lurk in the background at 2:15, blending in so seamlessly and entwining with Georgiana’s theme we scarcely realise he is there. The musical narrative takes on a minor, darker and more sinister turn at 2:42 as the plan for their elopement takes shape, that is, until Darcy’s brassy, alarmed discovery at 2:53, thereby putting a halt to the scandal.

To this day I can’t think of the exact reason behind the fascination with this particular excerpt – perhaps it’s the way the mind picks out and focuses on unexpected details, like the colour of a waitress’s earring just in passing or the shape of a train conductor’s nails as he makes his rounds through the carriages over a four-hour train ride; the same fascination I have with certain moments in musicals like the dialogue between Christine Daae (Sarah Brightman) and Carlotta (Rosemary Ashe) in Phantom of the Opera:

‘She’s the one behind this – Christine Daae!’ ‘How dare you!’ {(1:23-1:27) from “Notes/Twisted Every Way”, Phantom of the Opera (Original West End Cast)}

And while I’m at it, also the line from Elphaba’s father (Sean McCourt) in Wicked:

‘But know that you’re here in my heart while I’m out of your sight.’ {(3:56-4:08) from “No One Mourns the Wicked”, Wicked (2003 Original Broadway Cast Recording)} (Italics: my favourite word in the entire song)

Sound is a curious thing. Somehow within the intricate wiring of our brains, we are made so that sounds seem to be just as effective in triggering memories as scents, images and colours. That only a few seconds of the string and piano progression of the opening title track conjures up the vivid imagery of a woman’s hand doing embroidery work, pulling needle and thread through muslins and silks, laces and beads. That with “Dance Montage” (track 2) I immediately see in my mind’s eye feathers waving atop ridiculously pompous hats, Caroline Bingley’s snobbish curls and upturned nose (Also – can you believe that of all the characters in Austen’s novels, her quote about reading was chosen to be printed on the new £10 note?! Poor Jane will be turning in her grave).

Or perhaps my love for the music, and the story itself, stems from something deeper and more ingrained in my subconscious. Perhaps a part of me just wants to return to a period when I, a little girl back in the nineties, would watch (and re-watch) Pride and Prejudice on TV (recorded on VHS tapes!) at dinnertime with my parents, while the air-conditioning hummed and the sound of cicadas droned on in the summer heat.

I suppose one thing’s for sure –– music is no less a storyteller than prose and poetry are.

“Telling the Truth”:

“Notes/ Twisted Every Way”:

“No One Mourns the Wicked”


GraceGrace Hiu-Yan Wong is a BA English Language and Literature graduate (Class of 2016) and a co-founding editor of EDGE. She is now pursuing an MSc Creative Writing in Edinburgh University. [Read all entries by Grace here.]

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