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Women Walking Alone

Texts and music on the theme of women walking alone, with readers Nina Sosanya and Natalie Simpson. With Austen, Woolf and Emily Bronte, plus Fanny Mendelssohn and Chaminade.

Musings on women walking alone - the impropriety of such in earlier centuries and rebels who strode out unchaperoned, those walking alone in life, the female 'flaneuse' and women adventurers. Nina Sosanya and Natalie Simpson read texts by Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, George Sand, Virginia Woolf, Ondjaki, and Robyn Davidson. With music by Fanny Mendelssohn, Debussy, Chopin, Cecile Chaminade, and Augusta Holmes, among others.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Gustav Mahler

    Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen no.2 Ging heut Morgen übers Feld (I Went This Morning over the Field)

    Performer: Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Litton (conductor).
    • Virgin VC 790703 2.
    • Tr 2.
  • Brothers Grimm

    Little Red Riding Hood read by Natalie Simpson

  • 00:02

    Bedrich Smetana

    From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields (Ma Vlast)

    Performer: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek (conductor).
    • SUPRAPHON 1109572.
    • Tr 4.
  • 00:03

    Sergei Prokofiev

    Peter & the Wolf – wolf theme

    Performer: Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Claudio Abbado (conductor).
    • DG 429 396 2.
    • Tr 8.
  • Carol Ann Durry

    Little Red Cap read by Nina Sosanya

  • 00:06

    Claude Debussy

    Pelleas et Melisande – opening

    Performer: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (conductor).
    • DG 435 344 2.
    • Tr 1.
  • 00:08

    Fanny Mendelssohn

    March (Das Jahr)

    Performer: Ulrich Urban (piano).
    • KOCH 36719 2.
    • Tr 3.
  • Jane Austen

    Pride & Prejudice read by Natalie Simpson

  • 00:13


    Sonatina in C major, Op.36 no.3: Spiritoso

    Performer: Martin Souter (Broadwood fortepiano).
    • ISIS CD024.
    • Tr 15.
  • Mary Higgs

    Glimpses into the Abyss read by Nina Sosanya

  • 00:17

    Giuseppe Verdi

    La Traviata: Brindisi

    Performer: Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano), Alfredo Kraus (tenor), Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Florence, Zubin Mehta (conductor).
    • PHILIPS 438 238 2.
    • Tr 3.
  • 00:20

    Jules Massenet

    Meditation from Thais

    Performer: Nicola Benedetti (violin), London Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Harding (conductor).
    • DG 8705773.
    • Tr 7.
  • 00:26

    Frederick Delius

    North Country sketches: Winter landscape

    Performer: Ulster Orchestra, Vernon Handley (conductor).
    • CHANDOS CHAN 24137.
    • Tr 6.
  • Emily Bronte

    Walking in Nature: Memories read by Natalie Simpson

  • 00:28

    Frederick Delius

    North Country sketches: The March of Spring

    Performer: Ulster Orchestra, Vernon Handley (conductor).
    • CHANDOS CHAN 24137.
    • Tr 6.
  • 00:30

    Frederick Delius

    North Country sketches: Winter landscape

    Performer: Ulster Orchestra, Vernon Handley (conductor).
    • CHANDOS CHAN 24137.
    • Tr 6.
  • Charlotte Bronte

    Letter after both Anne & Emily’s deaths by Nina Sosanya

  • Margaret Hamilton Noel-Paton

    Walking Alone in Life: Wartime Loss - WW2 read by Nina Sosanya

  • 00:36

    Ralph Vaughan Williams

    The Lark Ascending

    Performer: Lyn Fletcher (violin), Halle, Mark Elger (conductor).
    • HALLE LIVE CDHLL 7512.
    • Tr 2.
  • Ondjaki

    I’m Going to Make Changes read by Natalie Simpson

  • 00:43


    ‘…The deceitful face of hope and of despair’

    Performer: Sharon Bezaly (flute), Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Mario Venzago (conductor).
    • BIS SACD 1449.
    • Tr 1.
  • 00:46

    Waltz in C Sharp Minor op.64 no.2

    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • 477 7483.
    • 6.
  • Georges Sand

    Histoire De Ma Vie (translated by Janet Tuppen) read by Natalie Simpson

  • 00:48



    Performer: Peter Jacobs (piano).
    • HELIOS CDH 55199.
    • Tr 22.
  • Virginia Woolf

    Mrs Dalloway read by Nina Sosanya

  • 00:54

    ‘Minute’ Waltz in D flat major, Op.64 no.1

    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • 477 7483.
    • 5.
  • Nora Naranjo-Morse

    Wandering Pueblo Woman read by Natalie Simpson

  • 00:56


    Times Square (On the town)

    Performer: Studio orchestra, Leonard Bernstein (conductor).
    • COLUMBIA CK 2038.
    • Tr 8.
  • 00:58

    Aaron Copland

    Quiet City

    Performer: New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein (conductor).
    • DG 419170 2.
    • Tr 5.
  • Lauren Elkin

    Flaneuse read by Natalie Simpson

  • 01:04

    John Cage

    In a landscape

    Performer: Giancarlo Simonacci.
    • Tr 19.
  • Elizabeth Austen

    The Girl Who Goes Alone read by Nina Sosanya

  • 01:07

    John Cage

    In a landscape

    Performer: Giancarlo Simonacci.
    • Tr 19.
  • Robyn Davidson

    Tracks read by Natalie Simpson

  • 01:09

    Earth Cry

    • 476 569 2.
    • 5.
  • Clarissa Pinkola Estés

    Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype read by Nina Sosanya

  • 01:11

    Louise Farrenc

    Overture no.2 Op.24 in E flat major

    Performer: NDR Radio Philharmonic, Johannes Goritzki (conductor).
    • CPO 999 820 2.
    • Tr 6.

Producer's Note

The female observer of city life; the girl wandering in the countryside; the woman adventuring on her own: these are modern concepts.  In centuries past, to be a woman walking alone would have caused more than a few raised eyebrows!  I want to explore instances of women walking alone either literally or figuratively, examine perceptions of their behaviour, and hear from these women in poetry and prose. 

The programme opens with a familiar warning given to children, especially to girls, followed by a modern tale of inquisitiveness and self-discovery by Carol Ann Duffy.

Next I’ve explored the censure the unchaperoned lady received in polite society both from men and other women, and the sexual connotations of a woman walking the streets.  Following this are poignant texts from Emily and Charlotte Bronte, well known for wandering on the moors in contravention of society’s expectations.  Their experiences in nature bring a vibrancy and immediacy to their expressions of homesickness and loss.

Staying with the theme of loss, we follow two women whose circumstances direct them onto a singular path in life.  The short story excerpt by the Angolan writer Ondjaki is especially raw.

Georges Sand had to enter somewhere.  Frustrated by the constraints on her sex, she describes in her autobiography how she found the solution – to stride out on the streets of Paris disguised as a man.  Virginia Woolf also loved walking the city streets -  wandering around London's parks for reflection and inspiration. In her novel Mrs Dalloway she brilliantly depicts how the mind wanders from one topic to another, as Clarissa Dalloway sets out across London.  Two other city flaneuse appear: one a village woman in the big smoke, the other a New Yorker living abroad.

Elizabeth Austen’s poem neatly describes the double standards women encounter when walking alone today, while Robyn Davidson in her memoir on crossing the Australian desert with camels is almost matter-of-fact about her extraordinary journey.

The musical choices reflect my personal reaction to the texts I have chosen.

Producer: Janet Tuppen


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