Steam Engine

by Ville Raasakka

for soprano and baroque orchestra

Empty sheet

Ville Raasakka

Steam Engine



The mass production of steam engines has been marked as the beginning of climate change in environmental research. The steam engine not only operated with coal, but enabled the extensive mining of coal. The Atmospheric Engine, developed and patented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712 in Cornwall was the first mass produced steam engine.

This composition is connected to this particular place and time. To the sounds produced by the Newcomen steam engine, and to a composer based in London in 1712, Georg Friedrich Händel.

The texts in the work are historical accounts on steam engines, coal mining and coal burning in Britain between 1661-1842. These include court hearings of workers in coal mines, reports of air quality in London and machine-romanticist poetry on steam engines.

I’ve used sound recordings of the historical steam engines (operating replicas) as a starting point for the composition. The orchestra reproduces the sounds of the steam engine with the baroque instruments. During the process I analyzed closely the vocal works written by Händel during the decade 1710.

Olga Heikkilä, soprano and commissioner of this work, recorded numerous readings of the texts, and the recordings, our workshops and Olga’s voice form the basis for the vocal expression of this work. The resulting work is a hybrid of instrumental concrete music and dramatic baroque cantata. The sopranos expression ranges from singing to sprechgesang, and from a human narrator to a living, breathing steam engine.

- Ville Raasakka


sopr, 2fl, 2ob, 2bsn, cemb, 2vln, vla, vlc, db


Vocal and Choral Works




Olga Heikkilä, soprano, The Finnish Baroque Orchestra, April 24th 2022, Helsinki


I. The Steam Engine, II. The Smoake, III. The Coal Pit, IV. The Accident, V. The Darkness

Commisioned by / dedications

Commissioned by Olga Heikkilä

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