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Blithe Spirit - The Skylark

A sequence of poetry, prose and music inspired by the skylark, with readers Carolyn Pickles and Adrian Lukis. With Shakespeare, Shelley, Herrick, Hughes and Vaughan Williams.

As Radio 3 is inspired by birds today, this edition of Words and Music hails Shelley's "blithe spirit" - the skylark. This rather nondescript little brown bird fills the skies with the most extraordinary torrent of sound, and has inspired poets and musicians throughout the centuries. Rising vertically from the ground he remains high in the air, fluttering and dropping his "silver chains of sound", before plummeting back down to earth - a "singing firework" as Edmund Blunden put it. How apt that the collective noun for larks is an "exultation".

Carolyn Pickles and Adrian Lukis are the readers - there is poetry from Shakespeare to Shelley, Herrick to Ted Hughes, with lark-inspired folk music, art song, chamber and orchestral music and of course some well-known Vaughan Williams...

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 19 Jun 2016 17:30

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Roger Quilter

    Hark! Hark! the lark

    Performer: Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano).
    • Naxos 8557116.
    • Tr 6.
  • Shakespeare

    “Venus and Adonis” (excerpt), read by Adrian Lukis

  • 00:01

    Joseph Haydn

    Haydn String Quartet No.5 in D major, Op.64 ‘Lark’. 1st movement

    Performer: Amadeus Quartet.
    • DG 439479-2.
    • Tr 1.
  • William D’'Avenant

    “The Lark now leaves his watery nest,” read by Carolyn Pickles

  • 00:06


    The lark in the morning

    Performer: Maddy Prior (vocals), Nick Nolland, Troy Donockley, Terl Briant.
    • Park Records PRKCD58.
    • Tr 15.
  • Robert Herrick

    “To the lark, read by Adrian Lukis

  • Cecil Day-Lewis

    “The ecstatic,” read by Carolyn Pickles

  • Rev’'d Charles Alexander Johns

    “The Skylark,” read by Adrian Lukis

  • Edmund Blunden

    “Lark descending,” read by Carolyn Pickles

  • 00:13

    Charles Villiers Stanford

    The Little Red Lark (Fifty Songs of Old Ireland)

    Performer: Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Clifford Benson (piano).
    • Hyperion CDA 67123.
    • Tr 19.
  • 00:14



    Performer: Jean-Pierre Rampal (flute and piccolo), Maurice Andre (baroque trumpet), The Saint-Laurent Children's Choir.
    • CBS MK 39669.
    • 16.
  • Arabella Buckley

    The Skylark and her Enemy (excerpt), read by Carolyn Pickles

  • 00:17

    Jerome Kern

    Up with the lark (Centennial Summer)

    Performer: Anna Marie Gutierrez.
    • Rialto Recordings SLRR 9201.
    • Tr 9.
  • 00:19

    Oliver Davis

    Flight, Concerto for violin and strings. Third movement.

    Performer: Kerenza Peacock (violin), LSO, Paul Bateman (conductor).
    • Signum SIGCD411.
    • Tr 3.
  • Diana Hendry

    “Skylark Researcher”, read by Carolyn Pickles

  • 00:21

    Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer

    Mr Meadowlark

    • ASV CDAJA5147.
    • Tr 21.
  • 00:24

    Hoagy Carmichael


    Performer: Clare Teal (vocal), Grant Windsor (piano).
    • Mud Records CDMUDCT2.
    • Tr 2.
  • 00:27

    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

    The Seasons (Op.37b) orch. Gauk . March (Song of the lark)

    Performer: Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi (conductor).
    • Chandos CHAN9514.
    • Tr 17.
  • John Bunyan

    “Upon the lark and the fowler,” read by Carolyn Pickles

  • 00:31

    Jennifer Higdon

    An exaltation of larks (excerpt)

    Performer: Lark Quartet.
    • Bridge 9379.
    • Tr 1.
  • Seamus O’'Sullivan

    “Lark’'s Song,” read by Adrian Lukis

  • Gerard Manley Hopkins

    “The Sea and the Skylark,” read by Adrian Lukis

  • 00:35

    Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev

    Zhavoronok [The lark] for piano [after Glinka's song]

    Performer: Evgeny Kissin (piano).
    • RCA 09026638842.
    • Tr 4.
  • Isaac Rosenberg

    “Returning we hear the larks”, read by Carolyn Pickles

  • 00:41

    Robert Johnson

    Hark! Hark! the lark

    Performer: Emma Kirkby (soprano), Anthony Rooley (lute).
    • Virgin Classics VC7593212.
    • Tr 2.
  • 00:42


    The Banks of green willow - idyll for orchestra

    Performer: Halle Orchestra, Mark Elder (conductor).
    • Halle CD HLL7503.
    • Tr 1.
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley

    “To a skylark” (excerpt), read by Adrian Lukis

  • Thomas Hardy

    “Shelley'’s Skylark”, read by Carolyn Pickles

  • 00:49

    Oliver Davis

    Air Waltz

    Performer: Kerenza Peacock (violin), LSO, Paul Bateman (conductor).
    • Signum SIGCD411.
    • Tr 12.
  • Ted Hughes

    “The skylark came,” read by Adrian Lukis

  • 00:51

    Oliver Davis

    Airborne Dances. No 1

    Performer: Kerenza Peacock (violins), Dorothea Vogel and Alex Gale (viola), Philip Higham (cello), Ben Russell (double bass).
    • Signum SIGCD411.
    • Tr 13.
  • Mary Oliver

    “The Lark,” read by Mary Oliver

  • 00:53

    Frederick Delius

    A Late lark for tenor and small orchestra [words: W E Henley]

    Performer: Susan Gritton (soprano), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward GArdner.
    • CHANDOS CHAN10590.
    • Tr 20.
  • 00:58

    Ralph Vaughan Williams

    The Lark Ascending

    Performer: Tasmin Little (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Davies.
    • Warner 9031731272.
    • Tr 6.
  • George Meredith

    “The Lark Ascending” (excerpt), read by Adrian Lukis

Producer Note

A summer’s evening edition of Words and Music hails Shelley’s “blithe spirit” – the skylark.

This rather nondescript-looking little brown bird fills the skies with the most extraordinary torrent of sound, which has inspired poets and musicians throughout the centuries. Rising vertically from the ground he remains high in the air,  fluttering and dropping  his “silver chains of sound”  before plummeting back down to earth – “a singing firework” as Edmund Blunden put it.  How apt that the collective noun for larks is an “exultation”.

The lark is the symbol of the early morning, bombarding the sun with music, which is beautiful and inspiring to most of our poets who concentrate on the song and the soaring, the paeans to the morning. But it’s not effortless – you’d expect Ted Hughes to notice that.

The lark is an inspiration to lovers as well. Herrick is one, seeing it as a minister, a priest, officiating at his prayers to his beloved, or in the jazz standard “Skylark”, it’s a hoped-for guide in the search for love.

And the lark represents freedom from our world of pain – singing above the battlefields, above the tempest and the mess of human life; to the extent that Shelley believes the bird must be a spirit, not of this world, inhabiting some other reality. But in our world the lark is as vulnerable to pain as any living creature, despite Bunyan’s best efforts to warn it away from the fowler’s net - Seamus O’Sullivan sings the song of the caged bird.  And in fact Diana Hendry reminds us that many people have not seen or heard a skylark at all…Have you?

My music choices range from settings of poetry, including W. E. Henley’s profound “A Late Lark” with music by Delius, folk songs, chamber music, music on the theme of flight, but more than anything else, violin music –obviously the instrument of choice for composers inspired by lark song.

And as for the song itself – a challenge for any poet to emulate in words – Gerard Manley Hopkins and Cecil Day Lewis can do verbal ecstasy – and so can George Meredith, who inspired the climax of this sequence of words and music – Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”…

Producer  : Elizabeth Funning


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