Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Texts and music inspired by light, with readers Cheryl Campbell and William Houston. With Shakespeare, Dickens and Whitman, plus Mahler, Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss, Finzi, Debussy.

On the day that the clocks fall back an hour after Daylight Saving - Cheryl Campbell and William Houston present a montage of music and speech inspired by ideas of Light. Featuring words and music from a diverse body of writers: William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Werner Heisenberg, Arthur C Clarke, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Henry Vaughan, and Dante; and from the Talmud and Rig-Veda. And composers: Gustav Mahler, Benjamin Britten, Ludwig van Beethoven, Toru Takemitsu, Henry Purcell, Claude Debussy, Morten Lauridsen, Gyorgy Ligeti, Franz Schubert, Philip Glass and Carl Orff.

The programme weaves a tapestry of different illustrations, understandings, and poetic interpretations about light: light as a metaphor for love, birth, innocence, and purity; as a fundamental particle of science; as an expression of the presence of the Divine, of God's munificence; or quiet simply, as a marker of the cyclical day.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Benjamin Britten

    Young Apollo Op 16

    Performer: Nikolai Lugansky (piano), Halle Orchestra, Kent Nagano (conductor).
    • ERATO 3984255022.
    • Tr1.
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley

    Hymn of Apollo, read by William Houston

  • 00:02

    George Frideric Handel

    Ode For The Birthday of Queen Anne - "Eternal Source Of Light Divine"

    Performer: Iestyn Davies (counter tenor), Alison Balsom (trumpet), The English Consort, Trevor Pinnock (director).
    • EMI 4403292.
    • Tr10.
  • Anon

    Rig Veda - Hymn 50 "Surya" (Cheryl Campbell)

  • 00:05

    Julian Lloyd-Webber, Jiaxin Lloyd-Webber, Guy Johnson, Laura van der Heijden (cellos), Catrin Finch (harp)

    "Hymn To The Dawn" from the Vedic Choruses (arr. for four cellos and harp by Julian Lloyd-Webber)

    • NAXOS 8573251.
    • Tr5.
  • Pablo Neruda

    "Ode To An Enchanted Light", read by Cheryl Campbell

  • 00:06

    Gustav Mahler

    Symphony No 1 - 1st Movement

    Performer: New York Philharmonic, Kurt Masur (conductor).
    • TELDEC 9031748682.
    • Tr1.
  • 00:12

    Ralph Vaughan Williams

    Sinfonia Antartica: iii. "Landscape"

    Performer: London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernard Haitink (conductor).
    • EMI CDC7475162.
    • Tr3.
  • Apsley Cherry-Garrard

    The Worst Journey In The World, read by William Houston

  • 00:14

    John Tavener

    Ikon of Light - "Fos 1"

    Ensemble: The Sixteen, Duke Quartet, Harry Christophers (conductor).
    • CORO COR16015.
    • Tr5.
  • Henry Vaughan

    The World, read by Cheryl Campbell

  • 00:16

    Alessandro Striggio

    Ecce Beatum Lucem

    Performer: I Fagiolini, Robert Hollingworth (conductor).
    • DECCA 4782734.
    • Tr1.
  • Dante

    The Divine Comedy - Paradise - Canto XXXIII, read by William Houston

  • 00:20

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    The Magic Flute - Act 2 - "Die Strahlen der Sonne"

    Performer: Gottlob Frick (Sarastro), Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, Otto Klemperor (conductor).
    • EMI CMS7699712.
    • CD2 Tr19.
  • 00:23

    Ludwig van Beethoven

    Piano Sonata in C Minor Op111 - iii. Arietta

    Performer: Solomon.
    • EMI 7647082.
    • CD2 Tr10.
  • Stephen Spender

    "I Think Continually Of Those Who Were Truly Great", read by Stephen Spender

  • 00:25

    Edward Elgar

    Lux Aeternum (Enigma Variations - "Nimrod" arr. John Cameron)

    Performer: The Choir of New College Oxford, Edward Higginbottom (conductor).
    • ERATO 0630146342.
    • Tr7.
  • Peter Ackroyd

    Brief Lives - JMW Turner, read by William Houston

  • Walt Whitman

    "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry", read by Cheryl Campbell

  • 00:29

    Claude Debussy

    Reflets dans l'Eau (orch. Gerhardt)

    Performer: National Philharmonic, Charles Gerhardt (conductor).
    • Readers Digest "Classics for Joy".
    • CD1 Tr5.
  • 00:35

    Philip Glass

    The Light

    Performer: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop (conductor).
    • NAXOS 8559325.
    • Tr1.
  • Werner Heisenberg

    Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory - "Introduction", read by Cheryl Campbell

  • 00:37

    György Ligeti

    Lux Aeterna

    Performer: Kammerchor Stuttgart, Frieder Bernius (conductor).
    • CARLUS VERLAG 83208.
    • Tr1.
  • Arthur C Clarke

    2001 - A Space Odyssey, read by William Houston

  • Anon

    The Talmud, read by Cheryl Campbell

  • 00:40

    Morten Lauridsen

    Lux Aeterna

    Performer: Polyphony, Britten Sinfonia, Stephen Layton (conductor).
    • HYPERION CDA67449.
    • Tr1.
  • Hans Christian Andersen

    The Little Match-Seller, read by Cheryl Campbell

  • 00:46

    Franz Schubert

    Winterreisse - 19. "Täuschung"

    Performer: Mark Padmore (tenor), Paul Lewis (piano).
    • Tr19.
  • Dylan Thomas

    "Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines", read by William Houston

  • 00:46

    Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev

    Duet for Soprano and Tenor after Tchaikovsky's Fantasy Overture "Romeo and Juliet"

    Performer: Stella Zambalis (soprano), John Daniecki (tenor), Moscow Radio and Television Orchestra, Peter Tiboris (conductor).
    • BRIDGE BCD9034.
    • Tr1.
  • William Shakespeare

    Romeo and Juliet - Act 2 Scene 4, read by Cheryl Campbell

  • 00:54

    Gustav Mahler

    Symphony No 7 - 2nd movement "Nachtmusik"

    Performer: Berlin Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado (conductor).
    • DG 4716232.
    • 2.
  • Emily Dickinson

    "We Grow Accustomed To The Dark", read by William Houston

  • 00:55

    Thomas Adès

    Darknesse Visible

    Performer: Thomas Adès.
    • EMI CDZ5696992.
    • 2.
  • Alexander Pope

    The Dunciad - Book IV, read by Cheryl Campbell

  • Charles Dickens

    Great Expectations - Chapter 8, read by William Houston

  • 00:58

    Eric Whitacre

    Lux Aurumque

    Performer: Ottawa Bach Choir, Lisette Cantor (director).
    • CANTO CANTO2011.
    • 13.
  • 01:01

    Carl Orff

    Der Mond - "Was ist das für ein licht?"

    Performer: Karl Schmitt-Walter (vocals), Helmut Graml (vocals), Paul Kuen (vocals), Peter Lagger (vocals), Philharmonia, Wolfgang Sawallisch (conductor).
    • EMI 763712-2.
    • CD2 Tr2.
  • 01:03

    Toru Takemitsu

    All At Twilight - ii. "Dark"

    Performer: Franz Halász (guitar).
    • BIS1075.
    • Tr2.
  • Eugéne Ionesco

    Present Past - Past Present, read by Cheryl Campbell

  • Dylan Thomas

    "Do Not Go Gentle Into a That a Good Night", read by Dylan Thomas

  • 01:05

    Franz Liszt

    Années de pèlerinage III - Angelus! "Prière aux anges gardiens"

    Performer: Budapest Symphony Orchestra,.
    • CAPRICCIO C49037.
    • Tr4.
  • John McGahern

    The Barracks - Chapter 7, read by Cheryl Campbell

  • 01:09

    Joseph Haydn

    Symphony No 45 in F# minor - "The Farewell" - v. Adagio

    Performer: The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock (director).
    • ARCHIV 4297572.
    • Tr5.

Producer's Note

For the weekend in which we reset the clocks and brace ourselves for winter and a lack of daylight, I thought of Light as a timely theme for Words & Music. The subject is a rich one. Ideas about light - both literal and poetic - fill the pages of literature across the world, and it is not difficult to find the same mirrored in music.

The programme begins with the image of Apollo, ancient god of the sun, (as described by Percy Shelley) and also with his equivalent in the ancient Vedic Hymns of India. Benjamin Britten's brilliant youthful tone poem for piano and strings, "Young Apollo" acts as a fanfare for the "maker of the light". Light is all pervading, "refulgent o’er the world of men", a catalyst for life. Pablo Neruda leads the mind's eye beneath the canopies of the great tropical forests; and Aspley Cherry-Gerrard, who was part of Robert Scott's fateful party on his last expedition to the South Pole, discovers the beautiful, numinous qualities of the great Aurora in one of the world's most extreme and inhospitable places. A landscape as remote as it is possible to find, but one remarkably captured in music by Ralph Vaughan-Williams. 

Light of course, plays a major role in the language of religion. In the climax to Dante's great 14th Century spiritual journey, The Divine Comedy, the poet stands in Paradise before the presence of God, made manifest by an intense, penetrating light. The spiritual purity and truth as conveyed by light has fired the musical imaginations of composers throughout history and I've represented this with an epic forty part motet by Alessandro Striggio, and from our own time, by the music of John Tavener. 

Light illumines further. A metaphor for knowledge and understanding. This certainly exercised the imaginations of Mozart and Beethoven, and so much music by the latter especially, is said to trace a musical argument from darkness to light. I was really pleased to find an archive recording of Stephen Spender reading his poetic tribute to great minds such as these. It seemed appropriate to juxtapose this with a recording of Solomon playing Beethoven's last sonata. Solomon - one of the greatest interpreters of Beethoven - was Spender's neighbour in London for many years. The programme also acknowledges the visual arts with Peter Ackroyd's portrait of JMW Turner - the "painter of light".

Werner Heisenberg gives us a scientist's interpretation of light, but even he has to admit that here words are not enough. American composer Philip Glass's piece The Light takes as its source, the pioneering scientific work of Michelson and Morley to determine its exact speed. Then there is the light and rememberance; the light that comes from love, and here I've turned to Dickens and Shakespeare. Light can also be a source of warmth as well as memory - something not lost on Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Seller. 

Finally, I come to the realm where light is notable by its absence. The night. Just as light is the bringer of life, so with its passing is death. John McGahern's beautifully moving novel The Barracks is suffused with images of light and darkness. Elizabeth's final moments are beautifully conveyed I think - as she struggles to comprehend the light, that for her literally fading away, on what is a beautiful summer's afternoon. 

On thinking of how to draw this programme to a close, I thought of Haydn and his Farewell Symphony. The fifth and final movement is a slow one, and in it, the members of the orchestra depart one by one, even before the piece is finished, until at the very end the orchestra consists of just two single violins. When it was first performed each player on departing, folded their music and symbolically blew out the candle by their music-stand. 

My special thanks to my wonderful readers Cheryl Campbell and William Houston.

Producer: Chris Wines


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.