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Dated 17 August 1906, the draft of The Steersman, a setting of Walt Whitman’s poem ‘Aboard at a Ship’s Helm’, belongs to the British Library’s collection of sketches for A Sea Symphony, of which it was intended at the time of its composition to be the fourth movement. While it had no place in Vaughan Williams’s final scheme for the work, its relatively complete state is testament to the protean nature of his imagination during the symphony’s long gestation between 1903 and 1909, evolving from a projected Songs of the Sea and Ocean Symphony to the score we know today. Realised and orchestrated by Martin Yates, it is a standalone piece lasting around ten minutes, for solo baritone, SSAA choir and orchestra, which in style and atmosphere anticipates the Three Nocturnes of 1908, first fruits of the composer’s study with Ravel.

Notable is an early use of the ‘Solent’ theme, subsequently heard in both the first and ninth symphonies, and in the 1955 film music for The England of Elizabeth.

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