Although quite expensive, sheet music was readily available during the Regency era. Many a person subscribed to services offered by music publishers, among the Schirmer, the most well known of the time. Sheet music was produced for subscribers in bound volumes. This volumes would contain a selection of songs, including popular ones of the times, excerpts from opera, pieces designed specifically for the pianoforte, and, upon occasion, transcriptions of instrumental string music for playing upon the pianoforte. The bound volumes were customarily produced quarterly.
In addition, one could find sheet music at print book shops. Some book shops offered sheet music in their lending libraries. Not that I condone the practice, but I do consider it innovative: Ladies would take the sheet music out on a loan, carry it home, and copy it into their own music copy books. Copyrights, as we know them, did not exist. Most aristocratic homes had extensive sheet music libraries. Sometimes, those ladies not of the house, but somehow connected to the family, would be given permission to copy selections from the home library into her music book. Jane Austen was known to have done so on more than one occasion.
Although music shops did exist, they were few in number, and they certainly did not resemble anything close to what we might envision today. Music shops essentially produced fine instruments. They specialized in particular instruments: pianoforte (Broadwood); harps, violins, etc. They rarely kept sheet music within the shop because they did not have the space needed for this. Sheet music was seen more as a product of the publishing industry rather than as a product of the music industry.
Naturally, the Napoleonic War affected the availability of music from the Continent. Popularity made some items available more quickly than others, but those in England were often behind the times regarding a new piece or even a new composer.
Sheet music of individual songs was often published in La Belle Assemblee, as well. I saw one recently from an 1811 issue titled “French Cruelty and British Generosity.” It had several verses.
A word of interesting note: A number of Beethoven’s compositions were seen as too emotionally erotic for young ladies to play. This was not a universal feeling, but many ton ladies, especially those of the dowager and patroness age, would look askance at a young lady playing Beethoven’s more invigorating works.
Special thanks to Louisa Cornell for information for this piece. I do not recall when I wrote down my notes on “music,” (I keep a large file of information as I encounter it) but I did list her name in the margin for me to remember who my source was.