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Neptune's Kingdom

Texts and music evoking the undersea world, with readings by Emily Taaffe and Nicholas Farrell. With Rita Dove, Shakespeare and Charles Kingsley, plus Britten, Hovhaness and Holst.

The undersea world is evoked in a sequence of words and music. Emily Taaffe and Nicholas Farrell read poetry and prose by Rita Dove, William Shakespeare and Charles Kingsley and the submarine music is provided by Britten, Hovhaness and Holst.

Songs of mackerel shoals and whale tales swell the ocean and the seas pick clean the bones of the drowned. There's beauty, death and the sea-change of new life here in the deep.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 17 Aug 2014 18:15

Music Played

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

  • Fanfare from the South China Sea

    • 00:00

      György Ligeti

      Die große Schildkröten: Fanfare vom Südchinesischen Meer

      Performer: Trumpet, Hakan Hardenberger

      • PHILIPS 4460652.
      • 09.
  • 00:00

    Stuart Dempster

    Conch Calling for conch solo

    Performer: Stuart Dempster

    • New Albion NA076.
    • 01.
  • Thomas Campion

    A Hymn in Praise of Neptune, reader Nicholas Farrell

  • James Stephens

    The Shell, reader, Emily Taaffe

  • 00:03


    Up Jumped the Herring

    Performer: Sam Larner

    • Topic GBBHW9951102.
  • 00:04

    Ewan MacColl

    The Shoals Of Herring

    Performer: Ewan MacColl

    • Fuse.
  • Ted Hughes

    Mackerel Song

  • 00:09

    Benjamin Britten

    4 Sea interludes from 'Peter Grimes', no.2; Sunday morning

    Performer: BBC Philharmonic, conductor Edward Gardener

    • CHAN10658.
    • 10.
  • Adrienne Rich

    Diving Into the Wreck, reader Emily Taaffe

  • 00:13

    Bernard Herrmann

    Beneath the 12-Mile Reef, Descending; The Octopus

    Performer: National Philharmonic Orchestra; conductor, Charles Gerhardt

    • RCA GD80707.
  • 00:17

    Osvaldo Golijov


    Performer: Luciana Souza, Atlanta Symphony, conductor Robert Spano

  • 00:20

    Gustav Holst

    Neptune, the Mystic from the Planets Suite

    Performer: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, cond Sir Charles Mackerras

  • Walt Whitman

    The World Beneath the Brine, reader Nicholas Farrell

  • John Gardiner Calkins Brainard

    The Deep, reader Emily Taaffe

  • 00:27

    Granville Bantock, arr for piano by Stephen Hough

    Song to the Seals

    Performer: Stephen Hough

    • HYPERION CDA 67267.
  • 00:31

    Peter Bruun

    Letters to the Ocean – When Night Falls

    Performer: Esbjerg Ensemble, conductor, Petter Sundkvist

    • DACAPO 8226553.
  • 00:35

    Alan Hovhaness

    And God Created Great Whales

    Performer: Seattle Symphony Orchestra, conductor Gerard Schwarz

    • DELOS DE3157.
  • Herman Melville

    from Moby Dick, A Tail, reader Nicholas Farrell

  • Charles Kingsley

    from The Water Babies, The Whale Pool, reader Emily Taaffe

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams

    Sinfonia Antarctica, scherzo

    Performer: The London Symphony Orchestra, conductor by Bryden Thomson

    • CHANDOS CHAN8796.
    • 02.
  • Allen Upward

    Scented Leaves from a Chinese Jar, reader, Nicholas Farrell

  • Robert Graves

    I Wonder What It Feels Like to be Drowned,

  • 00:52

    Richard Rodney Bennett

    Sea Change, for chorus & tubular bells – Full Fathom Five

    Performer: The Cambridge Singers conductor John Rutter

    • Collegium CSCD 521.
  • William Shakespeare

    Ariel Song from The Tempest, reader Emily Taaffe

  • T S Eliot

    Death by Water, reader Nicholas Farrell

  • 00:55

    Eric Whitacre

    Seal Lullaby

    Performer: Eric Whitacre Singers, Laudibus, Christopher Glynn piano, cond Eric Whitacre

    • Decca 3209.
  • Ernest Bloch

    Poems of the Sea, Waves

    Performer: Malmö Symphony Orchestra, cond Sakari Oramo

    • BIS CD639BIS.
  • Rita Dove

    The Fish in the Stone, reader, Emily Taaffe

  • Christopher Reid

    Amphibology, reader Nicholas Farrell

  • 01:05

    Robert Wyatt Ellidge

    Sea Song

    Performer: Rachel Unthank And The Winterset, vocal Becky Unthank

    • Rough Trade GBRNA0700009.

Producer's Note

The programme begins with György Ligeti’s Fanfare from the South China Sea and a pair of sea-shells on the shore: a conch to the lips in Stuart Dempster’s extraordinary Conch Calling and a shell to the ear which summons an unsettling other world in James Stephen’s The Shell.


We set out across the sea with one of Benjamin Britten’s Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, following the shoals of herring with Ewan MacColl and sing the praises of the mackerel with Ted Hughes.

Adrienne Rich takes us deep down below the surface to explore a wreck. Amongst the lost treasures and the drowned of the past she faces an emotional reckoning. Walt Whitman guides us through the corals and the weeds and the creatures in the submarine world and imagines a movement from the bottom of the sea through our world and beyond to other spheres. Holst’s Neptune, from his Planets Suite, evokes a dreamy undersea world in its sound but also hints, like Whitman, at something beyond the earth.


Next, we encounter the great beasts of the ocean with an extract from Melville’s Moby Dick and Hovhaness’ hymn to whales which makes use of recordings of their song. Tom, the chimney sweep in Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies rises up from the bottom of the sea, through clouds of sea moths to visit the great Peace Pool, surrounded by ice-cliffs, where the good whales wait for Mother Carey to transform them into something new.


This transformative power of the sea is acknowledged in Ariel’s song from the Tempest: Full fathom five they father lies; those are pearls that were his eyes. The dead and the drowned fold back into the sea like Rita Dove’s fish in the stone who, suspended in time and out of its element, is weary of the bright light of analysis.

Producer: Natalie Steed

Emily Taaffe

Emily Taaffe
Emily Taaffe

Nicholas Farrell

Nicholas Farrell
Nicholas Farrell


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