Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Featherbrained

A sequence of poetry, prose and music on the theme of birds and the human imagination, with readings by Anna Maxwell Martin and Jonjo O'Neill.

An exploration of birds and the human imagination from Wallace Stevens to the crows in Disney's Dumbo with the actors Anna Maxwell Martin and Jonjo O'Neill.

Is there something atavistic about an earthbound creature's fascination with flying? Could this be why birds have such a grip on our imagination? Think of it - Shakespeare's starlings and jackdaws - Rossini's thieving magpie - Lewis Carroll and the dodo....The Owl and the Pussycat ...Messiaen's extraordinary musical aviary ... we're always adding to the list. Somehow, it seems, our minds are refreshed and perplexed by birds. Although profoundly different we seek out similarities with their behaviour; then, perversely, we decide to envy their singularity; we ponder their savagery, then wonder if we should follow their example; even as we hunt them, we marvel at their resilience - windblown scraps flying against a howling gale, or sandmartins snuggling together in deep domesticity. This evening's edition of Words and Music is an exploration of all things featherbrained - an all too human swoop from Wallace Stevens' blackbird to the singing crows in Disney's Dumbo; from the ambivalent sweetness of the dove you can hear in Du Fay or Penalosa to the slight and sensual figure of a wading girl that James Joyce transforms into a seabird. Whether a lark ascending makes your heart leap or whether you're stirred by the brassy lure of a buzzard, prepare to take wing.

Producer: Zahid Warley.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    George Gershwin

    The Buzzard Song from Porgy and Bess

    Performer: Miles Davis.
    • CBS.
    • Tr1.
  • J A Baker

    From The Peregrine read by Jonjo O’Neill

  • 00:05

    Raautavara

    Joutsenet muuttavat(Swans migrating)

    Performer: Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Hannu Lintu conductor.
    • Naxos.
    • Tr6.
  • Mark Doty

    Migratory read by Anna Maxwell Martin

  • 00:14

    Carl Stalling

    The High and the Flighty

    Performer: Warner Brothers orchestra arranger Milt Franklyn.
    • Warner.
    • Tr3.
  • 00:20

    Oliver Wallace

    When I see an Elephant Fly

    Performer: Cliff Edwards and Hall Johnson Choir.
    • Disney.
    • Tr13.
  • 00:22

    B Harris and Charlie Parker

    Ornithology

    Performer: Bud Powell.
    • Roulette.
    • Tr12.
  • 00:28

    C Foxx and I Foxx

    Mockingbird from All Time Greatest Hits of Rock ‘N’ Roll

    Performer: Inez Foxx.
    • EMI.
    • Tr11.
  • Wallace Stevens

    Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird read by Anna Maxwell Martin

  • 00:33

    Francisco de Peñalosa

    Unica est Columba mea

    Performer: Pro Cantione Antiqua.
    • Hyperion.
    • Tr10.
  • James Joyce

    Extract from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man read by Jonjo O’Neill

  • 00:39

    Guillaume Dufay

    Responsory

    Performer: Pomerium director Alexander Blachly.
    • Archiv.
    • Tr12.
  • J A Baker

    The Nightjar from The Peregrine read by Anna Maxwell Martin

  • 00:43

    Olivier Messiaen

    L'alouette calandrelle Catalogue d'Oiseaux

    Performer: Håkon Austbø.
    • Naxos.
    • Tr4.
  • Thom Gunn

    Tamer and Hawk read by Anna Maxwell Martin

  • 00:49

    Ralph Vaughan Williams

    The Lark Ascending from Nigel Kennedy's Greatest Hits

    Performer: Nigel Kennedy.
    • EMI.
    • Tr4.
  • Seamus Heaney

    Homecomings read by Anna Maxwell Martin

  • 00:58

    Ralph Vaughan Williams

    The Lark Ascending from Nigel Kennedy's Greatest Hits

    Performer: Nigel Kennedy.
    • EMI.
    • Tr4.
  • Fleur Adcock

    The Last Moa read by Anna Maxwell Martin

  • 01:10

    Folksong

    Song of the Birds from Bach The Cello Suites

    Performer: Steven Isserlis.
    • Hyperion.
    • Tr13.
  • 01:13

    Trad.

    On Christmas night (Sussex carol) arr. P Ledger for chorus and organ

    Performer: Simon Bell. Performer: Frances Kelly. Music Arranger: Philip Ledger. Choir: Winchester Cathedral Choir. Director: Andrew Lumsden.
    • Christmas from Winchester: Winchester Cathedral Choir.
    • Regent.
    • 1.

Producer's Note - Featherbrained

Is there something atavistic about an earthbound creature’s fascination with flying? Could this be why birds have such a grip on our imagination? Think of it – Shakespeare’s starlings and jackdaws – Rossini’s thieving magpie – Lewis Carroll and the dodo….The Owl and the Pussycat …Messiaen’s extraordinary  musical aviary … we’re  always  adding to the list. Somehow, it seems, our minds are refreshed and perplexed by  birds. Although profoundly different we seek out similarities with their behaviour; then, perversely,  we decide to envy their singularity; we  ponder their  savagery, then wonder if we should follow their example; even as we hunt them,  we marvel at their resilience – windblown scraps flying against a howling gale, or sandmartins snuggling together in deep domesticity. This evening’s edition of Words and Music is an exploration of all things featherbrained – an all too human swoop  from Wallace Stevens’  blackbird to the singing crows in Disney’s Dumbo; from the ambivalent sweetness of the dove you can hear in Du Fay or Penalosa  to the slight and sensual figure of a wading girl that  James Joyce  transforms  into a seabird.   Whether a lark  ascending makes your heart leap or whether you’re stirred by the brassy lure of a buzzard, prepare to take wing.

 

Producer: Zahid Warley

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.

Gallery