Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

The Sun

Texts and music on the theme of the sun, with readings by Anne-Marie Duff and Greg Wise. With Shelley, Shakespeare and Ted Hughes, plus Haydn, Lili Boulanger, Ravel and Schoenberg.

Anne-Marie Duff and Greg Wise read poetry and prose on the theme of the sun. As a giver of life, a force of nature and an inspiration for worship, poetry and music, the sun has special significance in many cultures. We'll hear Shelley and Stravinsky's depiction of Apollo and Egyptian King Akhnaten's Hymn to the Sun set to music by Philip Glass. Romeo describes his beloved Juliet as the sun, and Louis XIV chose it as his emblem, declaring himself the Sun King. The sun also has its dangers, as discovered by Icarus and Ted Hughes' Crow. Real life aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery crash-lands in the unforgiving heat of the Sahara Desert, and Mark Twain describes the terror of a solar eclipse. The effects of global warming are debated by Ian McEwan's characters in his novel Solar, while an unusually hot summer exacerbates the problems for schoolboy Leo in L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between. Includes music by Haydn, Lili Boulanger, Ravel and Schoenberg.

Producer - Ellie Mant.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Maurice Ravel

    Daphnis and Chloe; Lever du jour (extract)

    Performer: London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn (conductor).
    • EMI CDC7471622.
    • Tr2.
  • Anon

    Genesis from The Bible (King James Version), read by Anne-Marie Duff

  • 00:02

    Joseph Haydn

    The Creation: Die Himmel erzahlen die Ehre Gottes

    Performer: Christiane Oelze (soprano), Scot Weir (tenor), Peter Lika (bass), RIAS Chamber Choir, The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Roger Norrington (conductor).
    • PROFIL PH07074.
    • CD1 tr13.
  • 00:06

    Igor Stravinsky

    Apollon musagete: Birth of Apollo (extract)

    Performer: Berlin Philharmonic, Simon Rattle (conductor).
    • EMI 7236112.
    • Tr17.
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley

    Hymn of Apollo, read by Greg Wise

  • Nicolaus Copernicus

    On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies, read by Anne-Marie Duff

  • 00:10

    William Byrd

    Oh God that guides the cheerful sun (extract)

    Performer: Stefan Roberts (treble), Choir of Magdalen College Oxford, Fretwork, Bill Ives (director).
    • Tr2.
  • L.P. Hartley

    The Go-Between, read by Greg Wise

  • 00:15

    Duke Ellington

    Hot and Bothered (extract)

    Performer: Duke Ellington & His Orchestra.
    • ASV CDAJA5024.
    • Tr4.
  • William Shakespeare

    Sonnett 33, read by Anne-Marie Duff

  • 00:17

    Lili Boulanger

    Hymn au soleil (extract)

    Performer: New London Chamber Choir, Andrew Ball & Ian Townsend (piano), James Wood (conductor).
    • HELIOS CDH55153.
    • Tr16.
  • 00:19

    Kaija Saariaho

    Notes on Light: Eclipse (extract)

    Performer: Anssi Karttunen (cello), Orchestre de Paris, Christoph Eschenbach (conductor).
    • ONDINE ODE11132Q.
    • CD4 tr7.
  • Mark Twain

    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, read by Greg Wise

  • John Donne

    The sun rising, read by Anne-Marie Duff

  • 00:26

    Arnold Bax

    Four Orchestral Pieces: Dance in the Sun (extract)

    Performer: BBC Philharmonic, Andrew Davis (conductor).
    • CHANDOS CHAN10829.
    • Tr2.
  • Wilfred Owen

    Futility, read by Greg Wise

  • 00:29

    Benjamin Britten

    War Requiem: Lacrimosa (extract)

    Performer: Heather Harper (soprano), Philip Langridge (tenor), London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Hickox (conductor).
    • CHANDOS CHAN89834.
    • CD1 tr2.
  • 00:34

    David Pickard

    The Flight of Icarus (extract)

    Performer: Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins (conductor).
    • BIS CD 1578.
    • Tr1.
  • Josephine Preston Peabody

    Old Greek Folk Stories told anew, read by Anne-Marie Duff

  • Thomas Hardy

    The sun on the letter, read by Greg Wise

  • 00:39

    George Frideric Handel

    Eternal source of light divine

    Performer: Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano), The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Harry Christophers (conductor).
    • HELIDOR 4765970.
    • Tr2.
  • Ted Hughes

    Crow’s Fall, read by Anne-Marie Duff

  • 00:43

    John Cage

    Mysterious Adventure (extract)

    Performer: Boris Berman (prepared piano).
    • NAXOS 8.554562.
    • Tr11.
  • Ian McEwan

    Solar, read by Greg Wise

  • 00:46

    Sofia Gubaidulina

    Canticle of the sun by St Francis (extract)

    Performer: David Geringas (cello), Danish National Choir, Gert Sorensen & Tom Nybye (percussion), Stefan Parkman (conductor).
    • CHANDOS CHAN10106.
    • Tr2.
  • Antonia Fraser

    Love and Louis XIV, read by Anne-Marie Duff

  • 00:48

    Jean‐Baptiste Lully

    Ballet du la nuit: Le Roi representant le soleil levant

    Performer: Musica Antique Koln, Reinhard Goebel (director).
    • DG 4634462.
    • Tr7.
  • William Shakespeare

    Romeo and Juliet, read by Greg Wise

  • 00:51

    Sergei Prokofiev

    Romeo and Juliet: Introduction

    Performer: London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (conductor).
    • LSO LSO0682.
    • CD1 tr1.
  • William Blake

    Ah sunflower, read by Anne-Marie Duff

  • 00:54

    Frank Bridge

    Three Poems: Sunset (extract)

    Performer: Mark Bebbington (piano).
    • SOMMCD 0107.
    • Tr1.
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery, trans Lewis Galantiere Picador

    Wind, Sand and Stars, read by Greg Wise

  • 00:56

    John Foulds

    Mirage (extract)

    Performer: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo (conductor).
    • WARNER 2564615252.
    • Tr10.
  • Molly Fisk

    Winter sun, read by Anne-Marie Duff

  • 01:00

    Arnold Schoenberg

    Shine on us, dear sun (extract)

    Performer: Simon Joly Singers, Robert Craft (conductor).
    • NAXOS 8.557521.
    • Tr6.
  • Lord Mifflin

    Helios, read by Greg Wise

  • 01:03

    Carl Nielsen

    Helios Overture (extract)

    Performer: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi (conductor).
    • DG 4477572.
    • Tr5.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica

    Encyclopaedia Britannica, read by Anne-Marie Duff

  • 01:06

    Philip Glass

    Akhnaten: Hymn to the Sun (extract)

    Performer: Paul Esswood (tenor), Stuttgart State Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies (conductor).
    • CBS CD45580.
    • Tr3.
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    A sunset, read by Greg Wise

  • 01:11

    Roger Quilter

    Summer sunset (extract)

    Performer: Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber (cellos), John Lenehan (piano).
    • NAXOS 8.573251.
    • Tr20.

Producer's Note

Today’s Words and Music celebrates the sun, as a giver of life, a force of nature, and an inspiration for worship, poetry and music.  Viewed as a god in many cultures, we’ll hear Shelley and Stravinsky inspired by Apollo, and Nielsen’s depiction of Helios. Egyptian King Akhenaten worshipped the sun in the form of Aten, his Hymn to the Sun memorably set to music by Philip Glass in his opera Akhnaten. Romeo describes his beloved Juliet as the sun, and Louis XIV chose it as his emblem, declaring himself the Sun King. For all its life-giving properties though, the sun isn’t strong enough to awaken the fallen soldier in Wilfred Owen’s poem Futility, set to music by Britten in his War Requiem.  

Of course the sun also has its dangers. Icarus flies too close to it, as does Ted Hughes’ Crow. There’s a real-life account of crash landing in the Sahara Desert by the French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and Mark Twain’s description of the terror of a total eclipse in the time of King Arthur. The present day effects of global warming are debated by Ian McEwan’s characters in his novel Solar, while an unusually hot summer exacerbates the problems for schoolboy Leo in L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between.  

Musically there was a wealth of options to choose from. The creation of the sun in the Book of Genesis is an inspiration for Haydn, and there are sun related pieces by Byrd, Lili Boulanger, Kaija Saariaho, Handel and Schoenberg. And of course the programme includes two of the miracles of the world – the sunrise, and the sunset, depicted in music by Ravel and Roger Quilter.


Producer – Ellie Mant



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.