Ronald Binge: Sailing By


Composed in 1963 by British composer Ronald Binge, Sailing By is known by many as the theme before the late Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4. The piece is played every night at 12.45am, with the piece being used not only for its simplicity and grace, but also serving as a signal for sailors tuning in to the radio station. 

The work has adopted a multitude of functions from radio to signalling, to a bedtime accompaniment and concert hall classic, Sailing By is a British treasure. However, not all has been plain sailing (!). In 1993, Sailing By was taken off the show on weekdays, however after a recorded version by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia was released under the ‘Save the Radio 4 UK Theme’ campaign, the work was reinstated in 1995. 

The Music

Classed as ‘light music’ Binge’s soft touch sings through the simple melody that makes up the whole of Sailing By. Opening with a rising and falling woodwind arpeggio, the calm atmosphere is firmly built from the beginning. A flowing string melody takes over which is then decorated by the woodwind embellishments. 

The work is in 3/4 and takes the structure of a waltz. The repetitive ABCAB structure enhances this and the melody is only developed to a point before it returns to the sweet opening motif. The dulcet tones from the time-keeping harp adds an element of magic and lightness to the music. The style is consistent throughout the whole piece, with the work ending as it began – with whirling winds, luscious strings and a light touch from Binge. 

Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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