The Seven Ages of Woman
A special edition to mark International Women's Day, exploring the lives of women from birth to death in poetry, prose and music. The readers are Fiona Shaw and Ellie Kendrick.
To mark International Women's Day a special edition exploring the lives of women from birth to death in poetry, prose and music. The readers are Fiona Shaw and Ellie Kendrick. With words by Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Carol Ann Duffy, Kate Chopin, Muriel Spark, Kathleen Jamie, Emily Dickinson and Mrs Gaskell and music by Sofia Gubaidulina, Sally Beamish, Joan Baez, Judith Weir, Elisabeth Maconchy, Tineke Postma and Louise Farrenc.
Producer: Fiona McLean.
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
Morning Song read by Fiona Shaw
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sonnet 14 read by Ellie Kendrick
from The Awakening read by Ellie Kendrick
I'm Wife read by Fiona Shaw
from Cranford read by Fiona Shaw
Carol Ann Duffy
Anon read by Ellie Kendrick
Carol Ann Duffy
Demeter read by Fiona Shaw
Flower Sellers, Budapest read by Fiona Shaw
There will come soft rains read by Ellie Kendrick
from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie read by Fiona Shaw
One Art read by Fiona Shaw
When Death Comes read by Ellie Kendrick
Edna St Vincent Millay
First Fig read by Fiona Shaw and Ellie Kendrick
This week’s programme is a special edition to celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme is ‘Seven Ages of Woman’, a take on Jacques’ description of the life of a man in ‘As You Like It’. You’ll hear poems and prose portraying the life of a woman as child, mother, worker, artist, wife and friend. And with music all composed by women.
The programme begins with Amy Beach’s ‘Fireflies’. Born in 1867 Beach was the first female composer to achieve wide recognition in the United States, a child prodigy who began giving public recitals at the age of seven.
Like Amy Beach the poet Elizabeth Browning showed talent at a very early age. Educated at home she was reading Milton and Shakespeare by the age of ten and, by 12, had written her first ‘epic’ poem. Here you’ll hear ‘Sonnet 14’ in which she expresses her views of what constitutes genuine love and her expectation of her husband to be, Robert Browning.
The great singer-songwriter Joan Baez’s ‘Diamonds and Rust’ also describes a relationship between two writers – Baez herself and her lover Bob Dylan.
Kate Chopin’s novel, ‘The Awakening’, published in 1899, was a landmark of early feminism, telling the story of a woman’s awakening to sexual passion and the difficulties she faces reconciling her role as wife and mother to her new desires. Published 20 years after Ibsen’s ‘The Doll’s House’ it shares many of the same themes. One reviewer wrote: "We are well-satisfied when Mrs. Pontellier deliberately swims out to her death in the waters of the gulf." After the censoring of the book which followed its publication Chopin never wrote another novel. The reading is heard alongside Sofia Gubaidulina’s early ‘Piano Quintet’. In mid-twentieth century Russia Gubaidulina faced very different problems. As a composer whose work expressed her religious convictions she found herself in opposition to the Soviet authors and was denounced, along with six other composers for writing ‘noisy mud instead of real musical innovation’. Gubaidulina’s response was to say that being blacklisted gave her the artistic freedom to write what she wanted without compromise.
A passage from Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford shows the capacity of women to form a community through friendship and is heard with Louise Farrenc’s exuberant Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano in E Minor.
‘Demeter’ by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy tells the myth of Demeter and her lost daughter Persephone, a beautifully moving exploration of loss, reconciliation and a mother’s love. Judith Weir’s ‘The Song of the girl ravished away by the fairies in South Uist’ is a setting of a Scottish Gaelic folk song in which a child cries out to be reunited with her mother.
Woman’s work is heard in Chen Yi’s ‘Making the hand-pulled noodles’ from her ‘At the Kansas City Chinese New Year Concert’ and Kathleen Jamie’s ‘Flower Sellers, Budapest’.
Responses to war come in the American poet Sara Teasdale’s ‘There will come soft rains’, a work about the senseless destruction caused by war and the fascism espoused by Muriel Spark’s character Miss Jean Brodie. The Japanese composer Karen Tanaka’s ‘At the Grave of Beethoven’ is in part a response to her shock on hearing the news of the civil war in Kosovo which was being reported in 1999 as she wrote her String Quartet.
‘Seven Ages of Woman’ ends with Elizabeth Maconchy’s Finale from her ‘Music for Strings’, which she has called ‘an extrovert happy-go-lucky movement’ and Fiona Shaw and Ellie Kendrick reading Edna St Vincent’s First Fig, her glorious four line poem extolling the virtue of women living their lives to the full.""Added, go to My Music