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Loving the Alien

Brian Cox and Amara Karan read poems by Lear, Tennyson and Ezra Pound about the fascination with the alien and the strange; with music by Bach, Gershwin and Debussy.

Fascination with and love of the strange is the theme for this edition of Words and Music.

Brian Cox and Amara Karan read poems by Tennyson, Ezra Pound and Craig Raine amongst others about Lotus Eaters, Selkies and monstrous and alien delights. There's music from composers, like Carl Maria von Weber, Britten and Gershwin who sought inspiration from other musical traditions and cultures and an extraordinary collaboration between the Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen and the Kronos Quartet. There's the inter-species love of the Owl and the Pussycat described by Edward Lear as well as Caliban's speech of promises to his wondrous new masters and music associated with aliens of the more traditional, extra-terrestrial kind including the theremin.

Producer: Natalie Steed.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Giuseppe Verdi

    Aida, overture,

    Performer: Rome Opera Chorus, cond Georg Solti.
    • GBS 2790 417 417-2.
    • 01.
  • 00:04

    directed by I Wayan Lotring (original recording 1928)

    Gender Wayang of Kuta, Seléndro

    • tr 15.
  • 00:04

    Edward Lear

    The Owl and the Pussy Cat, reader, Amara Khan

  • 00:04

    Colin McPhee

    Music of Bali (Pemungkah)

    Performer: Benjamin Britten.
    • Pearl 9177.
    • tr 08.
  • 00:09

    Kimmo Pohjonen

    Avara, Uniko

    Performer: Kronos Quartet, Kimmo Pohjonen, Samuli Kosminen.
    • ONDINE ODE11852.
    • tr 07.
  • 00:10

    William Shakespeare

    from The Tempest, Caliban Synopsis, reader Brian Cox

  • 00:14

    Robin Robertson

    At Roane Head, reader Brian Cox

  • 00:17


    The Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie

    Performer: Elspeth Cowie.
    • Scotfolk SFCD01.
    • tr 03.
  • 00:19

    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

    Swan Lake, Act 1, no.6; Danse Russe

    Performer: Alexander Markovich, piano, Alexander Markov, violin.
    • Apex 2564678657.
    • tr 01.
  • 00:23

    Carl Maria von Weber

    Turandot: Overture

    Performer: The Philharmonia, cond Neeme Järvi.
    • CHAN9066.
    • tr 02.
  • 00:27

    Claude Debussy


    Performer: Walter Gieseking.
    • EMI CHs5658552.
    • tr 04.
  • 00:27

    Ezra Pound

    Lui Che, reader Amara Khan

  • 00:30

    Alfred, Lord Tennyson

    The Lotus Eaters (extract), reader Amara Khan

  • 00:31

    Giacomo Puccini

    Humming Chorus, Madama Butterfly

    Performer: Philharmonia, cond Lorin Maazel, Ambrosian Opera Chorus.
    • Sony Classical 89286.
  • 00:31

    Alfred, Lord Tennyson

    The Lotus Eaters (extract), reader Brian Cox

  • 00:34

    Henry Purcell

    The Fairy Queen - One charming night

    Performer: Andreas Scholl, Accademia Bizantina; cond Stefano Montanari.
    • DECCA4782262.
    • tr 08.
  • 00:36

    Denis Preston, Jose Rios, Aldwin Roberts

    London is the Place for Me

    Performer: Lord Kitchener.
    • Universal.
    • tr 2.
  • 00:39

    Philip Glass

    Akhnaten, Hymn

    Performer: The Stuttgart State Opera Orchestra and Chorus, cond Dennis Russell Davies.
    • CBS M2K42457.
    • tr 03.
  • 00:40

    William Shakespeare

    From Antony and Cleopatra, reader, Amara Khan

  • 00:48

    Matthew Francis

    Of Islands, reader Brian Cox

  • 00:53

    George Gershwin

    It Takes a Long Pull, from Porgy and Bess

    Performer: Bruce Hubbard (baritone), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, conductor, Simon Rattle.
    • EMI CDS7495682.
  • 00:56

    Johann Sebastian Bach ) arr. Busoni for piano and orchestra [orig. for organ]

    Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ - chorale-prelude (BWV.639)

    Performer: Simone Dinnerstein, piano.
    • Sony 88697727282.
    • tr 01.
  • 01:00

    Louis and Bebe Barron

    from Soundtrack for The Forbidden Planet

    Performer: Bebe Barron.
    • Small Planet B0000059UG.
    • tr 06.
  • 01:00

    Rebecca Elson

    Let There Always Be Light, reader Amara Khan

  • 01:01

    John Williams

    Wild Signals, from Close Encounters of the Third Kind

    Performer: cond John Williams.
    • ARISTA07822190042.
    • tr 24.
  • 01:04

    Craig Raine

    A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, reader Brian Cox

  • 01:06

    Edward Thomas

    Snow, reader Amara Khan

  • 01:06

    Antonín Dvořák

    Rusalka, Act 1; Mesicku na nebi hlubokem [O silver moon...]

    Performer: Renee Fleming, London Symphony Orchestra, cond Georg Solti.
    • Decca 475 2442.
    • tr 09.

Producer's Note

Loving the Alien


This edition of Words and Music is about the engagement with the other and the strange.


Composers have often found inspiration in other cultures whether this be for subject matter in operas like Verdi’s Aida and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly or the Asian influences on Carl Maria Von Weber’s music for Turandot,  Debussy’s  Japonisme of Pagodas or Gershwin’s controversial rendering of the lives and rhythms of the inhabitants of catfish row in Porgy and Bess. Poets and writers too have used other cultures in their work,  not least Ezra Pound’s fascination with the Japanese style.


Colin McPhee’s original recordings of music from Java and his later compositions, performed by Benjamin Britten, accompany Edward Lear’s tale of delightful inter-species love: The Owl and the Pussycat whilst the more dangerous and disturbing qualities of amorous taxonomic muddling are explored in the Selkie tales of Robin Robertson and Elspeth Cowie’s haunting version of the Great Silkie Sule Skerrie.  There’s also Caliban’s poignant promise to his unworthy island invaders, Lord Kichener’s paean to London, his new home, and Cleopatra’s wail of praise for her Roman lover.

Two very different musical traditions and approaches collide when the Finnish electro accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen encounters and collaborates with the Kronos quartet on the Uniko project.


The voluptuous  attraction of foreign lands is sung in Tennyson’s Lotus Eaters whilst Matthew Francis’ Of Islands, draws a darker picture of misperceptions and miscegenation.


The strangeness and pull of the alien is explored in the next section where there’s music from or associated with the soundtracks of science fiction films: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Forbidden Planet and Solaris, a poem about the search for dark matter by the astronomer poet Rebecca Elson and Craig Raine’s famous Martian poem.


The programme ends with a song to the moon from Dvorak’s Rusalka.


Natalie Steed


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