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The Singer and the Song

A sequence of poetry, prose and music on the theme of singing, with readings by Jessie Buckley and Julian Ovenden. Including Charlotte Bronte, Flaubert and Handel.

Jessie Buckley and Julian Ovenden, both actors who sing themselves, with words and music on the theme of singing.

The multi-talented Jessie Buckley was recently seen on televisions's War and Peace as Princess Marya, and performs in Kenneth Branagh's Theatre Company. She also sings in musical theatre and jazz.
Julian Ovenden has starred on Broadway and in the West End, and at the Proms.

This edition of Words and Music celebrates the very act of singing, from Charlotte Bronte's Shirley, to the arrogant opera singer in Flaubert's "Madame Bovary", and from wartime concert parties to an amateur choral society's rendition of "Messiah". With an accompanying cornucopia of vocal music .

Producer : Elizabeth Funning.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 13 Mar 2016 17:30

Music Played

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

  • Richard Llewellyn

    “How Green Was My Valley”, read by Julian Ovenden

  • 00:39

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Sing to the Lord a New Song BWV 225

    Performer: Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor).
    • SDG716.
    • Tr 16.
  • 00:04

    André Previn

    Vocalise for voice, cello and piano

    Performer: Sylvia McNair (soprano), Yo Yo Ma (cello), Andre Previn (piano).
    • RCA Red Seal 8869747250 2.
    • Tr 11.
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    “Kubla Khan”, read by Julian Ovenden

  • Robert Louis Stevenson

    “Bright is the ring of words”, read by Jessie Buckley

  • 00:06

    William Denis Browne

    To Gratiana dancing and singing

    Performer: Ian Bostridge (tenor), Julius Drake (piano).
    • EMI 7243 556830 2 1.
    • Tr 5.
  • Andrew Marvell

    “The Fair Singer”, read by Julian Ovenden

  • 00:11

    Maurice Ravel

    Vocalise en forme de habanera

    Performer: Kate Royal (soprano), Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Edward Gardner (conductor).
    • EMI 3944192.
    • Tr 6.
  • 00:14

    Trad arr Skaila Kanga

    Early one morning

    Performer: Tommy Reilly (harmonica), Skaila Kanga (harp).
    • Chandos CHAN 6643.
    • Tr 2.
  • John Clare

    “Ploughman Singing”, read by Jessie Buckley

  • 00:16


    The Ox plough song

    Performer: James Findlay, Alex Cumming (accordion), Beth Orrell, Linda Adams, (harmony vocals).
    • Fellside FECD252.
    • Tr 4.
  • Thomas Hardy

    “The Ballad Singer”, read by Julian Ovenden

  • 00:19

    Arthur Sullivan

    I have a song to sing, O (Yeomen of the Guard)

    Performer: Sylvia McNair (soprnoa), Thomas Allen (baritone), Academy and Chorus of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner (conductor).
    • Philips 462 508-2.
    • Tr 13.
  • Marge Piercy

    “One reason I like opera”, read by Jessie Buckley

  • 00:24

    Giuseppe Verdi

    Bella figlia dell’amore (Quartet from Rigoletto)

    Performer: Luciano Pavarotti (tenor), Huguette Tourangeau (mezzo), Joan Sutherland (soprano), Sherrill Milnes (baritone), London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Bonynge (conductor).
    • Decca 421303-2.
    • Tr 11.
  • Flaubert

    “Madam Bovary”, read by Julian Ovenden

  • James Joyce

    “The Dead”, read by Jessie Buckley

  • 00:34

    Giuseppe Verdi

    Questa o quella (Rigoletto)

    Performer: Enrico Caruso, Salvatore Cottone (piano).
    • Naxos Historical 8.110703.
    • Tr 3.
  • Dylan Thomas

    “Quite Early One Morning”, read by Julian Ovenden

  • 00:36

    Edward Elgar

    Sea Slumber Song (Sea Pictures op 37)

    Performer: Janet Baker (contralto), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley (conductor).
    • LPO0046.
    • Tr 1.
  • Siegfried Sassoon

    “Concert Party (Egyptian Base Camp)” , read by Julian Ovenden

  • 00:43

    Zo Elliot

    There’s a long, long trail a-winding

    Performer: Sir Thomas Allen (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano).
    • Hyperion CDA 67374.
    • 11.
  • Charlotte Bronte

    “Shirley”, read by Jessie Buckley

  • 00:48

    Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

    Pearl’s a Singer

    Performer: Elkie Brooks.
    • Spectrum 551 329-2.
    • Tr 1.
  • Thomas Hardy

    “Under the Greenwood Tree”, read by Julian Ovenden

  • 00:51

    William Sterndale Bennett

    The Carol Singers

    Performer: Benjamin Luxon (baritone), David Willison (piano).
    • Decca 475047-2.
    • CD1 Tr 8.
  • Thomas Hardy (cont)

    “Under the Greenwood Tree”, read by Julian Ovenden

  • 00:58


    Hark! What mean those holy voices?

    Performer: Psalmody, The Parley of Instruments, Peter Holman (director).
    • Hyperion CDA 67443.
    • Tr 14.
  • Mark Doty

    “Messiah (Christmas Portions)” read by Jessie Buckley

  • 01:01

    George Frideric Handel

    Ev’ry Valley shall be exalted (Messiah)

    Performer: Martyn Hill (tenor), La Grande Ecurie et La Chambre du Roy, Jean-Claude Malgoire (conductor).
    • Sony SB2K 63001.
    • CD1 Tr 3.
  • 01:05

    Felix Mendelssohn

    Song without words, Book 1 (op 19) no 1, Andante con moto in E

    Performer: Howard Shelley (piano).
    • Hyperion CDA67935.
    • Tr 13.
  • D. H. Lawrence

    “Piano” read by Julian Ovenden

  • Conrad Aiken

    “Evensong” read by Jessie Buckley

  • 01:10

    Henry Purcell

    An Evening Hymn

    Performer: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo), Jakob Lindberg (theorbo), Jory Vinikour (organ).
    • Archiv 4778114.
    • Tr 15.

Producer's Note - The Singer and the Song

This edition of Words and Music celebrates the act of singing.  Recently we’ve been showered with research showing that singing helps mental and physical health, not to mention the social benefits of singing with others. So let’s indulge in a feel-good sequence of singers in literature and some of the music they sing.

Beginning with an exhortation to all voice types to sing “with shoulders back and head up so that song may go up to the roof and beyond to the sky” , we’ll hear from sopranos, tenors, contraltos and bass baritones, songs with and without words, choral and solo, sacred and secular,  artful and artless.

After the joyful motet by Bach, “Sing to the Lord a new song”,  Coleridge takes us to the dreamy state of mind woven by the singing Abyssinian maid, a mood reflected in Andrew Marvell’s “Fair singer” who needs only the air to cast her spell.

Then there is rustic song from the countryside – Clare’s ploughman and Hardy’s ballad singer, with some traditional English song.

And so to the opera, where Marge Piercy decidedly puts the movies in their place, talking us through the power of the opera, which is followed by the glorious quartet from Rigoletto, superbly demonstrating the character of each vocal part.  Then we join Emma Bovary at a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor, held in thrall by the “part hairdresser part toreador” glamour of the leading tenor. And there is lively discussion of the singers of old from James Joyce, and the inimitable voice of Caruso, recorded in 1902.

After a poignantly brief picture of an old contralto from Dylan Thomas, staring and singing out to sea, there’s a glimpse of a wartime concert party from Siegfried Sassoon, and one of the songs mentioned in the poem, and then Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley sings, far too expressively for the liking of her disapproving audience. They would probably also disapprove of Pearl the singer, who stands up while she plays the piano…

And so to Thomas Hardy’s bumbling and self-important church choir, who have rather overdone the carol singing the night before, as illustrated in Sterndale Bennett’s humorous song. The future for the gallery choir does not look rosy as girls are found to be actually singing in church… But the music is redeemed by a local choral society rendition of “Messiah”, described in transcendent terms in Mark Doty’s poem.

The programme closes with two nostalgic reflections, a song without words accompanying D H Lawrence’s remembrance of a mother singing, and Purcell’s “Evening Hymn” after Conrad Aiken’s vivid scene of a lullaby, drifting out across the city.

Elizabeth Funning, producer


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