“If I begin about music (which is my leading ignorance and curiosity), I have always to babble questions: all my friends know me now, and take no notice whatever. The whole piece is marked allegro; but surely could be easily played too fast? The dignity must not be lost; the periwig feeling”

(Letter from RLS to Mrs Fleeming Jenkin, March 1886,The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Biographical edn, ed. by Sidney Colvin, vol ii [New York: Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1911], p. 331)

RLS's Music


It is not generally known that Stevenson was both an amateur musician and composer. He played piano, pennywhistle and the Boehm flageolet, a kind of keyed soprano recorder, and wrote or arranged music for these and other instruments. He also wrote melodies to his own poems or set his own lyrics to classical or familiar melodies, the best known probably being ‘Sing Me a Song of a Lad That is Gone’, set  to the tune of The Skye Boat Song and used as the theme to the television drama Outlander.

John F.M. Russell has compiled a chronological list of Stevenson’s music manuscripts, providing it with facsimiles and links to sound files, transcriptions, quotations and additional commentary. The list can be found here: Music of Robert Louis Stevenson.

We warmly invite you to use these resources to explore an often overlooked aspect of Stevenson’s creativity and talent.

RLS's Music

Image courtesy of Capital Collections