M any children learn an instrument at some point – often the piano – but how many go on to play as adults? “I often refer to the piano as my first love and it very much was,” author Virginia Lloyd tells me over the phone. “I guess I never got over it.”

Pierre Auguste Renoir’s Two Young Girls at the Piano, 1892

Lloyd was a precocious pianist when she was young, but set music aside to pursue a very different career. In her new memoir Girls at the Piano– named for the famous painting by Renoir – she delves into her relationship with the instrument, which was so important to her growing up, alongside the experiences of her grandmother and, indeed, the experiences of women pianists since the instrument’s invention, from Mozart’s sister Nannerl, to Clara Schumann and fictional characters like Thackeray’s Becky Sharp and Jane Fairfax in Emma.

This will be Lloyd’s second book, her first – The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement– was hailed by The Sydney Morning Heraldas “both profound and universal” and “a truly remarkable piece of writing, which...