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 The Music of Robert Louis Stevenson
 
Bibliography
 
By J.F.M. Russell, ©2016
 
 
 

 
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.
 
 
 
 

From a photo in the Stevenson House Collection, Monterey, CA

 
"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.
 
 

 

Stevenson’s Shopping List

 
 

In his introduction to volume one of the Vailima edition of Stevenson’s works, Lloyd Osbourne says that to sustain his musical enthusiasm Stevenson had

 

nothing but his pitiful flageolet and those great stacks of music with no key to unlock them.

 

Of course the key to unlock them was the flageolet, but we barely know what was in those “great stacks of music”. That knowledge would be extremely useful in understanding Stevenson’s music, because his method both in literature and in music began with the imitation of style, and we would know exactly what he was imitating. In addition it would lead to a better understanding of his verse, since many of his poems were written either to his own or other people’s music. 

Stevenson’s shopping list of music publisher catalog numbers, shown below, appears on the verso of a manuscript for his fable The Reader, and is a good beginning for establishing at least some of the music books that were in his library.

 

Thanks to Richard Dury and Bill Gray for this facsimile of a manuscript in the British Library.

 

On the 27th of October 1887, Stevenson sent a letter to Fannie’s nephew Fred Thomas (1870-1962), a young violinist who lived in Danville, Indiana. The body of the letter was about the Beethoven violin and piano sonatas and other music Lou was sending to Fred.

Below is the last paragraph of the letter. Stevenson says he looked at a list of violin and piano works published by Augener which appears on the back of one of the music books. 

 

“Hermann's Album" was Melodien Album by Friedrich Hermann, Peters catalog #2118, and the fifth item on Stevenson’s list.  The “gavotte album” is probably a version of Augener 8687, for violin and piano by E. Pauer, but it doesn’t appear on the list. The facsimile of the cover shown below is catalog #8322 for piano only. Since these works were often rearranged for different combinations of instruments, the contents probably reflect the version for violin and piano Stevenson wrote about to Fred.

 

 

Three works are highlighted. Stevenson used #13, the Musette from Bach’s 6th English Suite, as the music for his poem and song Ditty. He arranged #19, Martini’s Gavotte (known as Les Moutons) for flageolet duet.  Although no manuscript has been found, Stevenson also arranged #21, Gluck’s Gavotte from Don Juan for flute, flageolet and clarinet. Even though no exact model can be found for it in this book, Stevenson’s own original Gigue (an erroneously named gavotte) may be based on Handel’s Gavotte in G, #17.

Most of the works on the shopping list are for piano and easy violin, or are playable on violin. In fact it appears to be the Christmas list from which Stevenson wants his nephew to choose. Stevenson says at the beginning of the letter, “I send off to you today”. By sending the books he will lose the markings he made on them as suggestions for Fred, so he recopies the list on the back of a handy manuscript, the Fable, the same day, October 27, 1887.
 
 

The Documents

 

 
 
 
The list begins with works published by Augener. Stevenson has crossed out the first one, perhaps because he realized it was only for piano. To the right he wrote the title “Child Scrap Book.”
 
The following section from an old Augener catalog shows that the crossed out item is in fact catalog number 8281, a volume in E. Pauer’s Children’s Classics series called Musical Scrap-Book:
 
 
 
 
The catalog number can be seen clearly at the top of the cover:
 
 
 
Besides many airs and gavottes Stevenson may have profited from as examples of style, an inspection of the contents and the music itself reveals it contains an arrangement of Boccherini’s famous minuet which Stevenson mentions in a letter, but for which no manuscript has been found. Number 91 in the contents is Paisiello’s l’Amor Contadino, which Beethoven used for some piano variations. Stevenson arranged this work as a trio and included an easy part for Lloyd to play on clarinet.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The second item on the list is Augener #8679, Chamber music for violin solo with pianoforte accompaniment, by Henry Holmes, 1839-1905, who taught at the Royal Conservatory in London.

 
 
Stevenson used none of these works for his own arrangements, but the book contains only Baroque music, which he enjoyed playing on the piano. In his letter to Fred Thomas, Stevenson mentions all the composers shown in the table of contents above and says, “On the back of one of the books is a list of Augener’s v. and p. music,” and this is indeed true:
 
 
 
 
 

Three items on Stevenson’s list are highlighted. 8679 is the Holmes work just discussed. 8687 is Pauer’s Gavotte Album, mentioned in the letter to Fred.

 

7608 is Our favorite tunes, “Popular instructor in V. playing”, and the third item on Stevenson’s list. No facsimile of the original is available, however the Monthly Musical Record for February 1st 1886 lists it as Gurlitt’s Our Favorite Tunes, for violin.

 

 

Gurlitt wrote two works by that title. His opus 106 is Augener #8146, not #7608, the one on Stevenson’s list and the one shown above.

The Monthly Musical Record of December 1st, 1885 lists the one Stevenson wanted for Fred, Gurlitt’s op. 135, along with the table of contents. Apparently the works were sold separately then, not in one book:

 

The contents list O Sanctissima, British Grenadiers, Drink to Me Only, Logie o’ Buchan, and The Harp that Once through Tara, all tunes Stevenson used for arrangements.

The next five items on Stevenson’s list are Peters editions.

He has crossed out the first number and replaced it with 983, indicated the price and noted the title as Jugend Album.

 

This title page doesn’t show the Peters number 983, but a catalog entry in another work verifies that Jugend Album is by Erk and has 112 folksongs as does the above title, so this is probably the work Stevenson intended.

 

Stevenson used several works in this collection for his arrangements and they are marked in the table of contents. Alle Jahre Wieder and O Sanctissima were arranged under their own titles. Treue Liebe is another version of Gott Weiss es, and Alle Vögel is an arrangement of Frühlings Ankunft.

 
 
 
 
Peters 2118 is Melodien Album by Friedrich Hermann. This is the other work Stevenson mentions in his letter to Fred.
 
 

Only the above title page has been located for the exact edition on Stevenson’s list, but other editions are available. As Stevenson notes in the letter, this work is in four volumes; folk tunes, opera melodies, marches, and dances. He suggests that Fred choose volumes 1 and 4.

A different edition for the title page and contents of volume one, Peters #7399, appears below.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

From this book, Stevenson arranged Ach, wie ist’s möglich dann, Nach Sevilla, and Schöne Minka. Mein Herz ist im Hochland is highlighted because it had special significance for him, as this letter to his mother from August 1, 1872 illustrates.

'S ist lange her is actually the German version of the English Long, Long, Ago. 


Deutsche Weisen

Mein Herz ist im Hochland is the German version of Burns' My Heart is in the Highlands:

Deutsche Weisen


 

Below are the contents of Melodien Album, volume two, Opera Arias. Although Stevenson loved opera and arranged many arias, none of his arrangements appear to have been taken from this book:

 

 

Volumes three and four of Melodien Album are marches and dances, and appear together in this edition:

 
 
 
 
 
 
The contents show that Stevenson has used three works from this book for his arrangements, Der alte Dessauer Marsch, the Marseillaise, and Schubert’s Sehnsuchts-Walzer.
 

The presence of La Marseillaise is important because it helps determine the date that the shopping list was written, as well as the date of the fable The Reader on the reverse side. In Booth letter #2050, ca. April 6, 1888, Stevenson reports that, “My wooden whistle and Lloyd’s fiddle … have arrived.” By this it can be seen that although the shopping list was meant as a Christmas list for nephew Fred, Stevenson may also have had in mind that his stepson Lloyd would learn the violin using the same music he was sending Fred.

In letter #2059 from April 12, 1888, Lou remarks that he is having difficulty writing because Lloyd is “labouring at the Marseillaise in the next room on His Fiddle, now about a week in his possession. I think he gets on well. Your descendants will soon make quite an orchestra.” Lloyd would probably have needed the music to learn the Marseillaise, so the shopping list must have been completed and the books received, if not before Christmas, 1887, no later than April 6, 1888.

 
 
 
 
Peters 1482 is Grieg’s Nordische Tänze. It contains two works used by Stevenson: Brautlied (Bride Song), #24, and Ich weiss ein kleines Mädchen, #16, which Stevenson arranged under the title Norse Air.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Peters 2301 contains two works by Schumann, Album für die Jugend and Kinderszenen.

 
 
 
 
Album für die Jugend consists of 42 pieces, five of which Stevenson used for arrangements: Stückchen (#5), Ländliches Lied (#20), Langsam (#21, called Slow Movement), Erinnerung (#28), and Matrosenlied (#37).

Stückchen is important because, like the Marseillaise, it helps date the shopping list. Stevenson devotes about half of his letter to Adelaide Boodle, #2051, ca. April 9, 1888 to a discussion about his arrangement of Stückchen and about the penny whistle. He also includes the music he has arranged. Again, this verifies that if the shopping list was not done before Christmas, it at least was done before April, when he completed this music.

Kinderszenen consists of 13 pieces of which Stevenson only used #7, the famous Träumerei.
 
 
 
 

Peters 1071 is Mélodies élégantes, by F. Hünten.

 
 
 
 
 
It contains three pieces: Tyrolienne, Marche d’Othello, and Cavatine de Bellini, all for piano only and none of which Stevenson used directly, although he did arrange other music of Bellini.
 
 

The last work on the list and the only one from Breitkopf & Härtel is #376, Vorstudien zur hohen Schule, by Ferdinand David. It contains only Baroque pieces for violin and piano, but Stevenson made no obvious use of them in his music, though clearly he intends it as a violin study book for Fred, or even Lloyd. The catalog number is barely visible just above the Schirmer stamp at the bottom of the title page:

 
 
 
 
 
 

Summary of the Books, Compositions and Arrangements

 
 

Below is a summary of the books on the list, including Pauer’s gavotte book mentioned in the letter: 

 

These books are either for piano, piano and voice, or piano and violin, and it is evident that Stevenson has his nephew’s violin playing in mind and that this is the basis of Fred’s Christmas list. It certainly includes a few works for Stevenson alone, who probably also ordered duplicate copies of Fred’s books for himself and Lloyd. He chose books with easy but attractive melodies for teaching violin and probably the flageolet. Fred, Lou and Lloyd could all use the same books to learn their instruments.
 
From those ten books, Stevenson drew inspiration for 27 of his own works:
 
 
 
 
 
In July of 1886, Stevenson said he was going to get Lloyd a clarinet, and that explains why there are six clarinet trios on the list, all with very easy parts. The solos and duets are intended for Lloyd and Lou to play together or alone. 
 
A revival of Baroque music began in England around 1890 and this may partly account for Stevenson’s interest in that musical period. More probably it stems from the tunefulness of the music and its intentional ease of playing, which makes it attractive for beginners. In addition Baroque music was strongly influenced by the pastoral. The dance forms it uses, such as the jig and hornpipe, are frequently the same as those found in Celtic music and so would have been of obvious interest to Stevenson, the Scottish nationalist. Hearing Celtic folk music must also have brought back memories of his father, who used to whistle the tunes. Schöne Minka probably reminded Stevenson of his friend Madame Zassetsky, who played Russian music on the piano, and which he thought very Scottish. Some of the books also included many folk tunes which would have been attractive for the same reasons: tunefulness, familiarity and ease of playing.
 
In the years before the shopping list was compiled (October, 1887), Stevenson had traveled across the British Isles, Western Europe and the United States, yet the list shows his largest musical influence is Germanic. Indeed all the works on the list have some German connection, either by compiler or by origin, even though Stevenson’s strongest cultural influences were Scotch or French. The reliance on German works is at first hard to explain. At the time there certainly must have been good English violin tutors to choose from, as well as English collections of playable folksongs, yet he chose mostly German works for his nephew.
 
A possible explanation for this influence is that the music evoked memories of his twelfth year when he had his first long tour of Europe in 1862-3, and when he was 22 and had a month long stay with Simpson at Frankfurt in August of 1872, at both times formally studying German. It was conventional for beginners in a language to learn folksongs and poetry, and these German works may have brought back memories of those times. He certainly enjoyed listening to the music played by the bands at the hotels in which he was staying.
 
 

The Effect of Music on Stevenson's Verse

 

 
If other documents like this shopping list were found, they would be valuable not only for the insight they would give into Stevenson’s music but also into his poetry. The Songs of Travel, for example, were written between 1887 and 1894, the same period as Stevenson’s interest in performing and composing, and that collection of verse shows clear evidence of the influence of music on his poetry.
 
Songs of Travel contains 46 poems out of which at least seven are also songs with music. A complete bibliography of Stevenson’s music books would certainly show that he owned of copy of Schubert’s Muth, since the first poem, The Vagabond, was written to that music. The bibliography would also show that among the stacks of music he owned was a copy of Diabelli’s Sonatina  in F, op. 168, because We have loved of Yore, #12, was written to a version of that music. Number 13, Ditty, is an original song by Stevenson inspired by music from Bach’s 6th English suite.  Number 17, Wandering Willie is a folksong. For #19, Stormy Evening, Stevenson wrote his own music based on an as yet undiscovered piece by H. H. H. Oldfield. Finally, Sing me a Song of a Lad that is Gone, #44, was written to the music of the Skye Boat Song.
 
The influence of music on Stevenson’s poetry also extends beyond Songs of Travel. The poems Tempest Tossed and Home from the Daisied Meadows were written to piano pieces by Beethoven, In Lupum can be sung to Schumann’s Happy Farmer, Spaewife was inspired by a Scottish folksong, and Come My Little Children and My Ship and I are both songs with original music by Stevenson. Fine Pacific Islands, Early in the morning I hear a Piano, Poor Tin Jack, Come Here is Adieu to the City, Song of the Road, and probably Song of Rahero and other ballads, as well as the unpublished Himene are all poems written to specific music. That’s more than 20 poems with probably many more to be discovered.
 
Home from the Daisied Meadows and The Vagabond are two examples of how knowledge of Stevenson’s music can be used to approach his poetry.

 
In the Bibliophile edition of Stevenson’s poems, George Hellman remarks on the disparity of line lengths in Home from the Daisied Meadows. He attributes this to the poem being adapted to music. In fact it was written to the theme of Beethoven’s piano variations on Winter’s “Willst du ruhig schlafen, Kind?” The highlighted portion indicates the point at which Stevenson began his song.
 
 
 
 
 
An examination of the music makes clear that the first three rhymed couplets have the metric pattern 8-8-4-4-8-8 feet. Without seeing or hearing the music one might be tempted to think the lines were in seven feet, or that there should be a pause of one foot at the end of lines 1-2 and 5-6.
 
 

To emphasize the sense of “the dews are falling fast” for the second couplet, Stevenson divides what would be an eight foot line into two lines of four, doubling the speed and accommodating the faster divisions of the music. The words “meadows” and “playmate” are set to the slower pace of quarter notes and so insure that both have two feet each rather than one, as they might normally be read. The sudden change from trochees to dactyls at the words “Lullaby darling” begins a new section not apparent from the printing of the poem and is explained by the presence of triplets in the music at that point. Finally, the anomalous, unrhymed last three lines turn out not to be part of the poem at all, since the music which it was set to ends with “mountain and field.” The remaining lines apparently are only sketches.

 

Schubert’s song Muth, the inspiration for The Vagabond, suggests an alternate approach to that poem.

 

Unlike Daisied Meadows, this poem has a consistent rhythmic structure. In the first repeated section of the music there are only two rhythmic patterns, each repeated a total of four times, forcing consistency on the poem. Because of the longer quarter notes at the end of each phrase, the music suggests that the reciter must treat the words “by me”, “nigh me”, “river” and ”ever” as having two feet, rather than as a trochee of one foot. Finally, Stevenson again uses some subtle tone painting by setting the words “lave” and “byway” to faster sixteenth note divisions of the music, letting the words wash or rush by.

Similar discussions of the effect of music on Stevenson’s verse could be pursued for each of the many poems that were based directly on music. However, this was intended as a bibliographical rather than a literary essay. Though no evidence as persuasive as the “shopping list” exists for their presence, Stevenson’s music library must also have included such works as English Minstrelsie, Beauties of Caledonia, Complete Songs Of Robert Burns, Horetzky’s 60 National Airs, Lenz’s Classiques de l'Enfance, Songs of Scotland without Words, and many others, all of which appear in the bibliography below.

Other writers such as Rousseau, E.T.A Hoffmann and Tolstoy composed more sophisticated and complex music than Stevenson. Music for him, however, seemed to pervade his and his family’s entire life, and its influence can be found throughout his writings. He composed, arranged and played music for pleasure, to understand the art itself, and to recall memories of people and his past, yet the most important use of music for Stevenson may really have been to inspire and shape his poetry. The discovery of more of the sources he used, such as those on his Christmas shopping list for Fred, would certainly lead to a greater insight into both his music and his verse.

 
 
  
 

Bibliography

 

 

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Bach, Johann Sebastian. French Suite no. 5, Gavotte.

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Baring-Gould, S. English Minstrelsie. Edinburgh: Grange, 1895.

Beauties of Caledonia. Boston: Ditson, 1845.

Beethoven, Ludwig van. Egmont. Die Trommel gerühret.

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