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Below the Surface

Texts and music exploring what lies below the surface, with readings by Juliet Stevenson and Alex Jennings. With Shakespeare and Heaney, plus Purcell, Gluck, Reich and Takemitsu.

Poems, prose and music exploring what lies below the surface - from the Underworld to the world of the coal miner and the depths of the sea. With poetry and prose by Shakespeare, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Mimi Khalvati and Louise Glück and music by Purcell, Gluck, Steve Reich and Takemitsu and Amy X. Neuburg. Readings by Juliet Stevenson and Alex Jennings.

First broadcast in March 2014.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 12 Oct 2014 17:30

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Ewan MacColl

    The Big Hewer – Deep down in a man’s heart

    Performer: Ewan MacColl.
    • TOPIC TSCD804.
    • 18.
  • P.K. Page

    Photos of a Salt Mine read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 00:03

    Bohuslav Martinu

    Orchestral Movement

    Performer: Sinfonia Varsovia conducted by Ian Hobson.
    • 2.
  • Seamus Heaney

    Personal Helicon read by Alex Jennings

  • Emily Dickinson

    I know where wells grow read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 00:11

    Christoph Willibald Gluck

    Adajio - Dance of the Blessed Spirits

    Performer: Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Herbert von Karajan.
    • 2.
  • Ted Hughes

    Orpheus from Selected Translations read by Alex Jennings

  • 00:19

    Claudio Monteverdi


    Performer: New London Consort conducted by Philip Pickett.
    • OISEAU LYRE 4335452.
    • 14.
  • Seamus Heaney

    The Underground read by Alex Jennings

  • Louise Gluck

    Myth of Devotion read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 00:27

    Henry Purcell

    Dido and Aeneas - When I am Laid in Earth

    Performer: Choir of the English Concert sung by Anne Sofie von Otter andconducted by Trevor Pinnock.
    • ARCHIV 4276242.
    • 21.
  • Pablo Neruda

    Leave me a Place Underground read by Alex Jennings

  • 00:31

    Tikeme Postma

    Leave me a Place Underground

    Performer: Tineke Postma and Esperanza Spalding.
    • CR73313.
    • 4.
  • John Milton

    Paradise Lost read by Alex Jennings

  • 00:37

    Krzysztof Penderecki

    Paradise Lost

    Performer: Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra.
    • MUZA PNCD020.
    • 3.
  • Langston Hughes

    Subway Rush Hour read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 00:42

    Amy X Neuburg

    The Secret Life of Subways - Someone Else’s Sleep

    Performer: Amy X Neuburg and The Cello Chixtet.
    • CD MM017.
    • 5.
  • John Galsworthy

    The Man of Property read by Alex Jennings

  • 00:48

    Philip Glass

    Glassworks - Facades

    Performer: Philip Glass Ensemble.
    • CBS SMK73640.
    • 5.
  • Mark Twain

    from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 00:55

    Max Steiner

    The Adventures of Mark Twain

    Performer: London Symphony Orchestra.
    • NAXOS 8557470.
    • 6.
  • 00:57

    Jean Sibelius

    The Tempest

    Performer: Academy of St Martins in the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.
    • Hanssler CD 98353.
    • 8 & 9.
  • William Shakespeare

    from The Tempest read by Alex Jennings and Juliet Stevenson

  • 01:02

    Bernard Herrmann

    Beneath the 12-Mile Reef – The Octopus

    Performer: National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt.
    • RCA GD80707.
    • 8.
  • Mimi Khalvati

    from Entries of Light read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 01:05

    Toru Takemitsu

    Toward the Sea III – The Night

    Performer: Aureole Trio.
    • KOCH 374492.
    • 7.
  • Alfred Tennyson

    The Kraken read by Alex Jennings

  • 01:09

    Alan Silvestri

    Voyages – The Abyss

    Performer: conducted by Alan Silvestri.
    • Varese Sarabande VSD5641.
    • 11.

Producer's Note

This week's programme explores the world below the surface, underground and in the depths of the sea. The starting point came when I was reading Seamus Heaney's poems inspired by the underground, in his volume 'District and Circle', in 'Ugolino' and in the poem you'll hear here, 'The Underground', Heaney's beautiful take on the Orpheus and Eurydice story updated to tell the story of Heaney and his bride Marie on their honeymoon in London rushing late to a Proms concert. Composers too have been inspired by the Orpheus story of the musician whose wife Eurydice dies after being bitten by a snake. Orpheus travels to the underworld to find her. He is allowed to bring her back on one condition, that Eurydice walks behind him and that he doesn't look back. Just as they reach the surface Orpheus is overcome with longing, looks back and loses Eurydice forever. Here Gluck's 'Dance of the Blessed Spirits' and Monteverdi's 'Orfeo' are heard alongside Ted Hughes' interpretation of the Orpheus story and Louise Gluck's 'Myth of Devotion', her telling of another classical story, that of Hades building a duplicate of earth in the underworld for Persephone. 


The programme begins with one of the songs from Ewan MacColl's 1961 radio ballad, 'The Big Hewer' and the poetic voices of the miners talking about their relationship with the world below the surface. Alongside this Juliet Stevenson reads 'Photos of a Salt Mine' by the Canadian poet P.K. Page.


Langston Hughes' 1920s poem 'Subway Rush Hour' dreams of a society where all races can live together and in 1922 Galsworthy's Soames travels from Sloane Square tube station in the first class compartment on a foggy day in London when passengers 'afraid of carriages on foggy days, are driven underground'. The composer Amy X. Neuburg's 'The Secret Language of Subways', her 2003 song cycle for voice and cello trio was conceived while sitting on the subway in New York and Oakland, 'inspired by the rhythmic lull of the train, the fragmented meanderings of my thoughts, the dramas of recent world and personal events, and the deluge of sensory input that is New York itself.' Here you'll hear 'Someone Else's Sleep'.


After an adventure in the cave with Becky and Tom Sawyer the programme ends below sea level  with Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' heard with Sibelius's musical interpretation and at the bottom of the ocean  with Tennyson's 'The Kraken' and the film composer Alan Silvestri's theme to the James Cameron film 'The Abyss'. 


Fiona McLean


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