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The Night Singer

For thousands of years the nightingale has been the most celebrated song-bird in the western world. Over the centuries, its remarkable voice has captured the hearts and minds of poets, writers and musicians - and its extraordinary song has symbolised the renewing powers of nature and human love in all its forms.

Yet the real nightingale is a brown little migrant who only stays a few weeks in Britain before heading back to Africa. Despite this, we constantly fall under its spell.

Earlier this year, Director, author, performer and bird enthusiast Neil Bartlett went to the RSPB site at Pulborough Brooks in Sussex, to seek out this tiny bird. We journey with him as he discovers what it is about the nightingale that captures our hearts.

He discovers how the nightingale manipulates his syrinx (like our voicebox) to such an extraordinary degree that every single bird has its own personal repertoire of up to 200 different songs. He learns how, in Roman times, the nightingale song was believed to contain magical properties so its organs were used in love potions and its tiny tongue baked in pies to try and make the human voice sound sweeter, and he hears how musicians have tried to communicate with this little bird incorporating it into their music.

In the 1920s for example, the most distinguished cellist in Britain, Beatrice Harrison played alongside a nightingale in her garden and when this duet was broadcast, millions of people tuned in to hear it. The broadcast became so popular that it became an annual event for years.

Presenter: Neil Bartlett
Producer: Angela Hind

A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

28 minutes

Last on

Mon 23 Sep 2013 23:00
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