The pianoforte, or the fortepiano as it is sometimes called, is an exceedingly delicate instrument to play. Comprised of just 49 keys (only a little more than half a modern piano’s), this forebear to all the keyboards that’ve come since appears like a literal blast out of the past—an 18th century sound hailing from a Florence still ruled by the Medicis. It is also a source for one of the best gags in the new Emma. adaptation starring Anya Taylor-Joy.
In one of the Jane Austen adaptation’s funniest scenes, Taylor-Joy offers an airy performance of an English folk tune while hunched melodically above her pianoforte. It’s actually an intentionally precious moment that sets up an even better one when her romantic rival, Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), offers a virtuosic rendition of “Mozart Sonata in F.” It’s one of the highlights of the film and of the Emma. soundtrack.
“That was part of the fun of the scene,” Taylor-Joy said when we spoke to her about the film this week. “Because we have the punchline afterward with Jane Fairfax, I was trying to do the most breathy, overdramatic, ‘Aren’t I pretty when I turn my head to the left?’ kind of performance of it ever. But every time I watch it, I just cringe. I’m like, ‘Oh God, this is like watching an old home movie.’”
Taylor-Joy’s brief rendition is unfortunately not on the Emma soundtrack (though she tells us she wants to one day pursue music in earnest). However, Anderson’s possessed rendition of Mozart on the pianoforte is on the album, as is much of the music that is already taking audiences by surprise in Emma.’s limited release, including Anderson’s haunting duet of “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” alongside Johnny Flynn. That song was likely an 18th-century glee (a capella arrangement) written to a 1616 poem by Ben Johnson.
With a score by David Schweitzer and Isobel Waller-Bridge, the film and its soundtrack drifts with a bubbly effervescence as bright as the pastel colors with which director Autumn de Wilde frames most of the movie. It also features a number of the film’s keen use of English folk songs, such as Maddy Prior and June Tabor’s rendition of “The Game of Cards,” a 19th British tune that sounds like it’s describing a card game… but listen closer and you might hear something quite a bit more erotic. Meanwhile the Waterson’s cover of the 18th-century folk ditty, “Country Life,” is a literal time warp back to before England’s agricultural revolution.
Also check back in the coming days for more of our Emma. coverage.