Birkenheadis expressly designated as “Musical Themes” but does not follow a predeterminedprogramme and simply is not intended to be descriptive. This case is analogousto the earlier “Concert for Prince Eugene”, in which the implications of thetitle manifest themselves in a dedication by referring to certain of themusician's cultural and musical preferences. Here in Birkenhead as well, heillustrates his particular frame of mind with respect to a certain “theme” ofhis own inspiration by attempting to express a state of feeling musically. Sucha theme is a “Fact from an old chronicle”, a piece which can be recited by aspeaker prior to the music.

AnEnglish ship, the Birkenhead, stranded on a cliff in Simon Bay in South Africaone night in February, 1853.

Thesoldiers of the Scottish Batallion, which was returning home, and the seamen onboard were able to look death sternly and calmly in the eye and maintain themost perfect discipline as if they were standing inspection. Only the handfulwho had been ordered to save the women and children in the few boats reachedland. The others numbering to roughly five hundred seamen and soldiers,remained in formation so as not to overload the lifeboats and silently resolvedto go down with their ship to the sound of the drums and the fanfare of thetrumpets.

Musicalinstrumentation of the piece - string instruments, 2 flutes with octave flute,2 trumpets, kettledrums, celesta, percussion instruments, and the obligatorypiano polarized in two blocks with string instruments and piano on one side andthe wind instruments on the other, both of these blocks trying to portray thetwo contrasting elements, the storm at sea and the military fanfare, whichaccording to the old chronicle comprised the musician’s emotional motivationand which thus have been transferred to a contrast in tones.