During the Summer 1886, RLS was very much taken up with trying to learn something of the theory and practice of music, and spent much of his time ‘pickling,’ as he called it, in an elementary manner on the piano. He even tried his hand in an experimental way at composition, and had sent one of his attempts for criticism to his cousin, Bob, who was better versed in the art.
[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1673.]
To Bob Stevenson [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 339-341]
Skerryvore, Boumemouth, [1 August 1886]
Your foolish letter was unduly received. There may be hidden fifths, and if there are, it shows how dam spontaneous the thing was. I could tinker and tic-tac-toe on a piece of paper, but scorned the act with a Threnody, which was poured forth like blood and water on the groaning organ.
Though the music for Threnody op. 1 is lost,
Stevenson’s hymn-like Clarinet Trio in C
may provide some idea of its original nature.
If your heart (which was what I addressed) remained unmoved, let us refer to the affair no more: crystallised emotion, the statement and the reconciliation of the sorrows of the race and the individual, is obviously no more to you than supping sawdust. Well, well. If ever I write another Threnody! My next op. will probably be a Passepied and fugue in G (or D).
[…] The mind is in my case shrunk to the size and sp[ecific] gr[avity] of an aged Spanish filbert.
O, I am so jolly silly. […] I now pickle with some freedom (1) the refrain of Martini’s Moutons;
(2) Sul margine d’un rio, arranged for the infant school by the Aged Statesman;
(3) the first phrase of Bach’s musette (Sweet English-woman [i.e. English Suite], No. 3), the rest of the musette being one prolonged cropper, which I take daily for the benefit of my health.
All my other works (of which there are many) are either arranged (by R.L. Stevenson) for the manly and melodious forefinger, or else prolonged and melancholy croppers. […] I find one can get a notion of music very nicely. I have been pickling deeply in The Magic Flute; and have arranged La dove prende, almost to the end, for two melodious forefingers.
I am next going to score the really nobler Colomba o tortorella for the same instruments.
This day is published
The works of Ludwig van Beethoven
for two melodious forefingers
Sir, — Your obedient servant,
Pimperly Stipple.That’s a good idea? There’s a person called Lenz who actually does it —
— beware his den; I lost eighteen-pennies on him, and found the bleeding corpses of pieces of music divorced from their keys, despoiled of their graces, and even changed in time; I do not wish to regard music (nor to be regarded) through that bony Lenz. You say you are ‘a spoonfed idiot’; but how about Lenz? And how about me, sir, me?
I yesterday sent Lloyd by parcel post, at great expense,
an empty matchbox
and empty cigarette-paper book,
a bell from a cat’s collar,
an iron kitchen spoon,
and a piece of coal more than half the superficies of this sheet of paper.
They are now (appropriately enough) speeding towards the Silly Isles;
I hope he will find them useful. By that, and my telegram with prepaid answer to yourself, you may judge of my spiritual state. The finances have much brightened; and if Kidnapped keeps on as it has begun, I may be solvent. — Yours,
(The author of ane Threnodie)
Op. 2: Scherzo (in G Major) expressive of the Sense of favours to come.