In his autobiography, Little Wilson and Big God (Heinemann, 1987), Burgess writes "Liana and I escaped from the Grand Prix in Monaco to the village of Callian in the Var, where our little house lay on the rues des Muets in the core of a little labyrinth of streets. I put together my thoughts on music and literature in a brief book, then fixed myself up at an outdoor cafe table with ballpoints and scoring paper and set Hopkins's 'The Wreck of the Deutschland' for baritone soloist, chorus, and large orchestra. It could not, of course, be done, but I had to prove this to myself. I could not compose my own rhythms; I had to follow Hopkins's, and his sprungness got lost in the choral counterpoint. This work was interrupted by a call to go to Cesena in Italy." The score was completed in Monaco in March 1982.
The composition is approximately 32 minutes in duration.