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The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson

Air de Diabelli

By J.F.M. Russell ©2019

Robert Louis Stevenson began studying the piano and composition at age 36 and learned the penny whistle two years later. He played the flageolet, a version of the whistle equipped with keys, almost until the end of his life. His arrangements and compositions include more than 120 pieces. This site describes his complete works through facsimiles, transcriptions, recordings, quotations and commentary.

"An interesting chapter in his life will be written when all his scattered pieces are brought together, and the musical side of his character unexpectedly revealed to the vast public that knows him now only as the winsome versifier and the accomplished romancer."

Robert Murrell Stevenson in Robert Louis Stevenson's Musical Interests, 1957.



As published in the preface to the biographical edition of Underwoods and Ballads:


Manuscript Locations:

First facsimile:

University of Rochester River Campus Libraries

Melodies for the flute by RLS, CX 22

Second facsimile:

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscrjipt library

Gen MSS 664

Box 121

folder 2060


Significant References in Works of R.L.S.:

Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, v. 8. via Google books.


Stevenson used the first five bars of the Diabelli sonatina as inspiration for a song which is otherwise completely original. The published version found in the prefatory note to Underwoods and called We Have Lived and Loved differs in significant ways from the manuscript. Besides changing the key from A to F, it changes the rhythmic pattern and at the same time introduces several unconvincing ties across bar lines. In addition it alters notes at bars 14 and 20 and leaves out a significant sharp. The manuscript version follows Diabelli's rhythmic pattern more closely.

The phrase We Have Lived and Loved refers to Catullus, poem no. 5, Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus.