Jack and Carolyn Fleming (Independent Scholars)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Stevenson and Music – From Edinburgh to Samoa’

Stevenson loved music and frequently alluded to music and musical instruments in his writing. He discovered his love for classical music in Edinburgh when, reluctantly, he attended a symphonic concert and was enthralled. He later said ‘Beethoven was the greatest man the world has ever produced’.

Despite the abundance of musical references in his fiction and verse, musicality is an under-appreciated facet of his work. In his letters (four volumes by Sidney Colvin, 1868-1880), we count 127 references to music; in four of his major novels we count 53 musical allusions. (We have compiled these references in a chapbook.) Stevenson’s writing frequently underscores the joy of the pipes or the tin whistle. Who can forget the exciting battle of the dueling bagpipes in Kidnapped? Indeed, A Child’s Garden of Verses was originally conceived as ‘Penny Whistles for little whistlers’.

Stevenson had a substantial musical grounding. At Bournemouth he took piano lessons, studied music and attempted to learn harmony and counterpoint, enabling him to compose and score his own compositions. (Some are available in archives, and to us, today.) He played the piano for long hours, writing to Mrs Fleeming Jenkin in 1886 ‘I am quite mad over it [Litolf’s Gavottes Celebres] … I write all morning, come down, and never leave the piano till about five; write letters, dine, get down again about eight and never leave the piano till I go to bed.’

Stevenson’s love of rhythm is evident in his poetry, and he also loved to dance. When he wintered at Saranac Lake, seeking health, he was noted for being a graceful ice-skater and for tooting his penny whistle; he was known as ‘the Penny Piper of Saranac.’ Stevenson also loved to play the flageolet, a flute-like instrument first developed in France in the 16th century. RLS played his ‘pipe’ for his own enjoyment, often when he was bedridden with illness or when retreating to the forest at Vailima, his home in Samoa. A classic picture at Vailima shows him playing the flageolet, propped up in bed. Also, he took his pipe with him for company on journeys including his trips to Australia.

In this presentation we will explore the profound influence of music, not only on the personality of RLS, but also on the style and content of his writings. Recorded audio will form part of our talk.

Categorized as Abstracts

Contact Us

To contact the conference organisers:

Scott Hames
Tel:+44 (0)1786 466205

Adrian Hunter
Email: adrian.hunter@stir.ac.uk
Tel:+44(0)1786 467507


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