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Northern Lights: Sara Wheeler

For Radio 3's Northern Lights season, Michael Berkeley's guest is writer Sara Wheeler, known for her books about polar regions. With music inspired by and recorded in the Arctic.

As part of Radio 3's Northern Lights season, Michael Berkeley's guest is the award-winning writer on the Polar Regions, Sara Wheeler.

Sara Wheeler spent years resisting the magnetic North. She established her reputation with books about the South Pole, where the American Government appointed her writer-in-residence: she is the only person to have slept on Captain Scott's bunk, apart from that great Antarctic explorer of course. Her book about the Antarctic became an international best-seller, and she went on to write a biography of another Antarctic explorer, Apsley Cherry-Garrard. So it was not till middle age that she realized she couldn't resist the pull of the North Pole. Her book 'The Magnetic North' draws on journeys through Russia, Canada and Greenland, staying with the people who live within the Arctic Circle. She says 'The Antarctic, with its purity and beauty, symbolizes what the earth could be; the Arctic, which is peopled and polluted, symbolizes what the earth actually is. I was desperately trying to avoid the Arctic, but I realized as the years went by that for all its problems it was too important a part of the contemporary world for a writer to ignore.'

For Private Passions, Sara Wheeler has compiled a playlist of music inspired by the sounds of the Arctic: the calls of Arctic birds, the sound of ice cracking. She includes rare archive of music made by indigenous peoples in Greenland, recorded in igloos there at the beginning of the 20th century, but very similar to the music she heard herself when travelling a few years ago. Composers include Prokofiev, Tippett, Vaughan Williams and Einojuhani Rautavaara, whose 'Cantus Arcticus' captures the sound of Arctic birds.

Available now

29 minutes

Last on

Sun 6 Dec 2015 12:00

Music Played

  • Einojuhani Rautavaara

    Cantus arcticus (1st mvt: The Bog)

    Orchestra: Lahti Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Osmo Vänskä.
  • Sergei Prokofiev

    The Battle on the Ice (Alexander Nevsky)

    Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Claudio Abbado.
  • Trad.

    Traditional Greenlandic Songs

    Performer: Olga Maratse.
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams

    Sinfonia Antartica (5th mvt: Epilogue)

    Performer: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Vernon Handley.
  • Michael Tippett

    The Ice Break (Act 3: Who holds me tight around the waist?)

    Orchestra: London Sinfonietta. Conductor: David Atherton. Singer: Heather Harper.


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