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Birth and Rebirth

Sunday 29 June 2008 23:00-0:00 (Radio 3)

Josette Simon and Julian Rhind-Tutt are the readers in this edition, which focuses on the theme of babies, flowers and birds, Creation and the Resurrection, and all things new and reborn. With poems and texts by Sylvia Plath, Wordsworth, Browning, Christina Rossetti, Dorothy Parker and Margaret Drabble, as well as music from Delius, Warlock, Bach and Cleo Laine.


1 hour

Birth and Rebirth

Josette Simon Josette Simon (reader)

Julian Rhind-Tutt Julian Rhind-Tutt (reader)

Producer's note: Birth and Rebirth

...and where better to start than at the very beginning and Creation itself! The Biblical account in the book of Genesis is one of the most poetic passages in the Old Testament, especially in the King James translation as we are using here. Haydn's music mirrors the sense of wonder as chaos is moulded into ordered form, and the symbolism of new beginnings flows naturally into images of a new day dawning, and the arrival of spring after a long, dark winter.

We hear the snow melt in Robert Frost's "The Onset" just as Delius brings his famous cuckoo to life on the clarinet, starting a sequence of music and texts about birds. There is a wealth of music inspired by birds, but I think two of the best examples are featured here. Just hear how the sound of real chicks is so accurately reflected musically in Mussorgsky's "Ballet of the chickens in their shells" from his "Pictures from an Exhibition". Listen out for some gloriously feathery flutter-tonguing on the flutes in Ravel's wonderful orchestration.

The phoenix, mentioned in the Harry Potter stories, has long been a potent symbol of the idea of rebirth and indeed has often been associated with the Christian story of the Resurrection. Originally an Egyptian myth, the bird grows old and eventually bursts into flames, rising again with renewed life from the ashes.
You cannot have a programme about new life, of course, without including babies. In the sequence of prose and poetry which follows Stravinsky's "Firebird", we have several differing reactions to the birth of a baby, ranging across two centuries. The 18th century diarist James Boswell is clearly used to his wife giving birth, but for the heroine in Margaret Drabble's poignant 1960s novel "The Millstone" it's a shattering experience for an unmarried mother at a time when illegitimacy was regarded as a great social stigma.

Peter Warlock's ravishingly beautiful "Cradle Song", sung here by one of Britain's finest tenors - John Mark Ainsley - is an apparently gentle and soothing lullaby, but if you listen carefully to the lyrics, you will notice a slightly barbed and cynical tone, contrasted greatly with the sheer outpouring of straight forward emotion in Cleo Laine's song "He was Beautiful".

After birth, of course, there comes life, the inevitable suffering and death. The passion story and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are metaphorically paralleled here by the story of the destruction of Coventry Cathedral in 1940 and it's rebuilding in the 1960s. You could say that the imagery of the phoenix returns and is literally played out as the great Medieval building burns down and is rebuilt from the ashes. The architect Sir Basil Spence was clearly inspired by his faith when designing the new building, which was consecrated in 1962 and for which Benjamin Britten wrote the War Requiem. For the people of Coventry, the new Cathedral symbolised new life and hope for the city, and despite its controversial modernity, it remains a well loved and treasured monument to the resilience of Coventrian citizens.

The programme ends with this optimistic flavour, and with Oscar Wilde's "Vita Nuova" ("New Life") - and Christina Rossetti's desire to seize the day and enjoy spring flowers now rather than wait for the summer blooms. I hope the programme will leave you feeling just as rejuvenated and singing along with "A little Springtime in your heart".

Producer: Helen Garrison


Bible (King James Version)
Genesis Ch1 vv1-5

Read by Josette Simon

Overture from "The Creation"
The English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
Archiv 449 217-2CD 1 Tr 1

e. e. cummings
i thank you God for most this amazing day
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring
The London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley (conductor)
CHAN 8330 Tr 4

Robert Frost
The Onset
Read by Josette Simon

Robert Browning
Pippa Passes
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

Alfred Tennyson
Locksley Hall
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

Robert Louis Stevenson
Love is the very heart of Spring
Read by Josette Simon

To Spring (Lyric Pieces, Op43/6)
Andrei Gavrilov (piano)
DG 437 522-2 Tr 5

Robert Louis Stevenson
Nest Eggs
Read by Josette Simon

Ballet of the unhatched chicks (from Pictures from an Exhibition)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Riccardo Muti (conductor)
EMI CDC 7 47099 2 Tr 5

J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (extract)
Read by Josette Simon

Dance of the Firebird (from The Firebird)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Riccardo Muti (conductor)
EMI CDC 7 47099 2 Tr 13

James Boswell
Extract from diary
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

Sylvia Plath
Morning Song
Read by Josette Simon

William Blake
Infant Sorrow (from Songs of Experience)
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

Cradle Song
John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Roger Vignoles (piano)
Hyperion CDA66736 Tr 30

Walter de la Mare
The Birthnight: To F
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

Margaret Drabble
The Millstone (extract)
Read by Josette Simon

Fergal Keane
Letter to Daniel 1996
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

MYERS, LAINE, arr John Dankworth
He was beautiful (lyric version of "Cavatina")
Cleo Laine (voice), John Williams (guitar)
RCA PC 9452 Side A Tr 1

Dorothy Parker
The maid servant at the inn
Read by Josette Simon

The Lamb
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Philips (conductor)
Gimell CDGIM 005 Tr 9

Bible (King James Version)
Matthew 28 vv1-9
Read by Josette Simon

Et Resurrexit (from Mass in B minor)
Rias Kammerchor, Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin, Rene Jacobs (conductor)
Berlin Classics 0184012BC Tr 5

John Donne
From Holy Sonnets
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

Sanctus and Benedictus from the War Requiem
Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), The Bach Choir and LSO Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Britten (conductor)
Decca 414 393-2 CD 1 Tr 14

Oscar Wilde
Vita Nuova
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt

Christina Rosetti
Another Spring
Read by Josette Simon

When you've got a little Springtime in your Heart
Al Bowlly (voice), Ray Noble and his Orchestra
ASV CD AJA 5115 Tr 3

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