Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Tendrilled Avenues

Texts and music about humanity's relationship with alcohol, with Sally Dexter and Jon Strickland. Including Dickens, Lowry and Colette, plus Verdi, Warlock, Ravel, Copland.

"Tendrilled Avenues": poetry and prose from Pliny to Proulx celebrating and cautioning, lamenting and laughing, about humanity's complex relationship with alcohol, read by Sally Dexter and Jon Strickland.

Pliny the Elder gives a sober judgement of wine's effects. Dickens and Lowry describe in poetic detail, the interior of two drinking establishments; Colette's heroine Claudine becomes light-headed on sparkling wine and new love. Shakespeare's Falstaff is unequivocal in his praise for "good sherris sack", while Martin Amis's John Self discovers the embarrassment of over-indulgence at a dinner party. Whalers on shore-leave caper wildly in Moby Dick; Proulx's fishing community party takes a violent turn. And DH Lawrence meditates on humanity's ancient and mysterious relationship with the "tendrilled avenues of wine and the otherworld".

With drinking songs from Verdi, Warlock and Tom Waits, and orchestral interludes ranging from reflective to euphoric, by Ravel, Copland and Milhaud.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:00

    Carl Orff

    In Taberna Quando Sumus(from Carmina Burana)

    Artist: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Leonard Slatkin (conductor)

    • BMG 0902 6680952.
  • Pliny the Elder

    On the Properties of Wine from Bk.14 of Natural History (excerpt), reader Jon Strickland

  • 00:03

    Camille Saint‐Saëns

    March of the Lions (from Carnival of the Animals)

    Artist: Toulouse Capitole Orchestra, Michel Plasson (conductor)

    • EMI CDC 7544652.
  • Ernest Hemingway

    True At First Light (excerpt), reader Jon Strickland

  • 00:06

    Giuseppe Verdi

    Coro di Zingari "Anvil Chorus" (from Il Trovatore)

    Artist: Ambrosian Opera Chorus & New Philharmonia Orchestra, Zubin Mehta (conductor)

    • BMG 0902 6680952.
  • Charles Dickens

    Our Mutual Friend (excerpt from Ch.6), reader Sally Dexter

  • 00:11

    Thomas Arne

    The jolly god who rules; Cease lovely nymph (from Bacchus & Ariadne)

    Artist: Robert Tear (tenor), Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner (conductor)

    • DECCA 4529732.
  • 00:14

    Mariachi Reyes del Aserradero

    El Cihualteco

    • Rough Guide To The Music of Mexico.
    • Rough Guide RGNET 1098.
  • Malcolm Lowry

    Under The Volcano (excerpt), reader Jon Strickland

  • 00:18

    Aaron Copland

    Latin American Sketch no.2

    Artist: New Philharmonia Orchestra, Aaron Copland (conductor)

    • Sony Classical SMK60133.
  • Li Tai Po, translated by Amy Lowell

    A pot of wine among flowers, reader Sally Dexter

  • 00:22

    Claude Debussy

    Pagodes (Estampes no.1)

    Artist: Michel Béroff (piano)

    • EMI CDC7478972.
  • 00:26

    William Walton

    Prologue (Henry V) excerpt

    Artist: Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner (conductor)

    • CHANDOS CHAN 10437.
  • William Shakespeare

    Falstaff soliloquy (Henry IV part 2), reader Jon Strickland

  • 00:30

    William Walton

    Agincourt Song (Henry V)

    Artist: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Andre Previn (conductor)

    • RPO CDRPO8001.
  • Anne Brontë

    The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (excerpt), reader Sally Dexter

  • 00:37

    Kurt Weill

    : Love song for Orchestra (from Dreigroschenoper)

    Artist: Ensemble Modern, HK Gruber (conductor)

    • RCA 7432 1661332.
  • Christopher Isherwood

    Mr Norris Changes Trains (excerpt), reader Jon Strickland

  • 00:41

    Maurice Ravel

    La Valse (excerpt)

    Artist: LSO, Claudio Abbado (conductor)

    • DG 4273142.
  • Colette, trans. Antonia White

    Claudine in Paris (excerpt from Ch.14) read by Sally Dexter

  • 00:44

    Maurice Ravel

    La Valse (excerpt)

    Artist: LSO, Claudio Abbado (conductor)

    • DG 4273142.
  • 00:48

    Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer

    One For My Baby

    Artist: Frank Sinatra:

    • The Capitol Years.
    • Capitol CDP 794320-2.
  • Martin Amis

    Money (excerpt), reader Jon Strickland

  • 00:53

    Tom Waits

    The piano has been drinking

    Artist: Tom Waits

    • Small Change.
    • Asylum 7559606122.
  • 00:57

    Peter Warlock

    Captain Stratton's Fancy

    Artist: Christopher Maltman (baritone ) and John Constable (piano)

    • The English Song Series 4 (Peter Warlock).
    • NAXOS 8557115.
  • Herman Melville

    Moby-Dick (excerpt), reader Jon Strickland

  • 01:00

    Anon.

    Anon. - What shall we do with the drunken sailor?

    Artist: Robert Shaw Chorale

  • 01:01

    Malcolm Arnold

    Three Shanties (Op.4) for wind quintet

    Artist: Prague Wind Quintet

    • Panton 8112882.
  • E. Annie Proulx

    The Shipping News (excerpt), reader Sally Dexter

  • 01:05

    Trad.

    La Gigue de M. Lasanté

    Artist: La Bottine Souriante

    • Je Voudrais Changer D’Chapeau.
    • Rounder CD6041.
  • 01:06

    Darius Milhaud

    La Creation du Monde (excerpt)

    Artist: Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, Alberto Zedda (conductor)

    • VIRGO VJ5611042.
  • D. H. Lawrence

    Grapes (excerpt), reader Sally Dexter

  • 01:09

    Darius Milhaud

    La Creation du Monde (excerpt)

    Artist: Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, Alberto Zedda (conductor)

    • VIRGO VJ5611042.

Producer Note

Poetry and prose from Pliny to Proulx, celebrating and cautioning, lamenting and laughing, about humanity’s relationship with alcohol; with complementary songs, dances and musical amospheres.

After the rousing chorus “in the tavern” from Orff’s Carmina Burana (sung in medieval Latin), the Roman writer Pliny the Elder gives a quasi-scientific judgement on wine’s effects, observing that Alexander the Great should have exercised more moderation, and done less slaying.

The imperious March of the Lions by Saint-Saens introduces Ernest Hemingway’s description of breakfast on safari, when he likes to drink an early beer - unless he is hunting lion.
Dickens and Lowry describe in loving and poetic detail, the interior of two drinking establishments – a cosy Thames-side inn where the beer-pulls make low bows to the customers, and a sepulchral Mexican cantina with an intriguing array of barrels; both establishments ruled by powerful women who are in no mood to indulge their male customers. (Dickens’ villainous Riderhood can have but one pint, while Lowry’s unfortunate Consul is left calling plaintively for service.)


Meanwhile, Thomas Arne’s Bacchus raises a glass of wine in song to his beloved, Ariadne, and moving into a more reflective mood, Chinese poet Li Tai Po drinks to the moonlight; the scene is further painted by Debussy’s piano piece “Pagodes”.

Shakespeare’s Falstaff is unequivocal in his praise for “good sherris sack”, as an inspiration and tonic in both love and war; William Walton’s glittering score for Henry V matches the martial vigour of the old soldier. A less edifying effect is felt by Huntingdon’s drinking friend in Anne Brontë’s The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall.

Colette’s heroine Claudine becomes light-headed on sparkling Asti in a Parisian cafe, and thinks the room is in “Japanese perspective” -  but then she realises that it is her lover who has really intoxicated her.

Ravel’s heady orchestral fantasy La Valse whirls us away to another city and another time – Berlin, the 1930s, New Year’s Eve, and Christopher Isherwood’s narrator is also experiencing some fizz-fuelled euphoria as he watches the dancing merrymakers.

Moving further into the night, Sinatra’s classic recording of One For My Baby is a poetic tale of a lovelorn man, the last drinker at the bar confiding in the bar-tender (“set em up, Joe – I got a little story I think you should know…”) – which leads us to Martin Amis’s John Self, who discovers the embarrassment of over-indulgence at a dinner party in New York, when he arrives at his friend’s apartment to find dinner over – and he has forgotten what went on there earlier...

Another American bar-fly, Tom Waits is in a mood to blame anyone and anything but himself for his inebriation, in his song The Piano Has Been Drinking – but Peter Warlock’s Captain Stratton’s Fancy is a carefree, rollicking sailor’s drinking song.

This ushers in two fishing community scenes: a crew of whalers just arrived on shore-leave from a freezing ocean voyage caper wildly at the Spouter Inn, in Moby Dick; while Proulx’s farewell party in a Newfoundland port takes a violent turn.

And finally, as Milhaud’s sinuous score La Creation du Monde evokes a primeval atmosphere, DH Lawrence meditates on humanity’s ancient and mysterious relationship with the “tendrilled avenues of wine and the otherworld”.

Producer: Philip Tagney

Broadcasts

The hidden history of plant-based diets

The hidden history of plant-based diets

Forget social media influencers - the meat-free movement started with the Victorians.

Books website

Books website

Get closer to books with in-depth articles, quizzes and our picks from radio & TV.