Simon Russell Beale and Adjoa Andoh track clouds scudding across the sky, in poems from Yang Chi to Shakespeare and Rilke to Thoreau. With music by Westhoff, Ligeti and Debussy.
Elizabeth Arno (producer).
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
The Cloud, read by Adjoa Andoh
The clouds that are so light, read by Simon Russell Beale
A Curious Cloud surprised the Sky, read by Adjoa Andoh
Gullivers Travels (extract)
Clouds, read by Adjoa Andoh
YANG CHI, translated by JONATHAN CHAVES
Nesting among Clouds, read by Simon Russell Beale
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, read by Simon Russell Beale
Sonnet 33, read by Adjoa Andoh
CLOUD APPRECIATION SOCIETY
The Manifesto of the Cloud Appreciation Society, read by Adjoa Andoh and Simon Russell Beale
Lost in Heaven, read by Simon Russell Beale
RILKE, translated A. POULIN, JR.
These laborers of rain, read by Adjoa Andoh
Her Bed, read by Simon Russell Beale
A Long, white, summer cloud, read by Adjoa Andoh
Fog, read by Simon Russell Beale
Sonnet 34, read by Simon Russell Beale
Two Clouds, read by Adjoa Andoh and Simon Russell Beale
These are the Clouds, read by Adjoa Andoh
ARISTOPHANES, translated by PETER MEINECK
Chorus of the Clouds, from The Clouds (extract), read by Adjoa Andoh and Simon Russell Beale
Clouds, read by Simon Russell Beale
ELLEN PALMER ALLERTON
Trailing Clouds, read by Adjoa Andoh
Journal, 25th December 1851, read by Simon Russell Beale
RILKE, translated by A. POULIN, JR.
Evening Clouds, read by Adjoa Andoh
BRECHT, translated by DEREK MAHON
A Cloud, read by Simon Russell Beale
‘I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky:
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.’
(Percy Bysshe Shelley)
Shelley’s poem The Cloud, which opens this edition of Words and Music, immortalises the cloud cycle in almost divine terms. There is a mysterious quality to clouds, particularly in the way they catch the changing light and mood of each unique day from sunrise to sunset, constantly metamorphosing through a rich palette or whites, greys, golds, oranges and reds. When Henry Thoreau reflects on the majesty of a crimson cloud at sunset, he asks: ‘what sort of science is that which enriches the understanding, but robs the imagination?’
Shelley’s beguiling image of The Clouds sets in motion a continuous trail of clouds across the programme from Edward Thomas’s The Clouds that are so light to the gentle rain clouds of Robert Frost’s poem Lost in Heaven and Rilke’s ‘labourers of rain’. Alexander Posey and Shakespeare write about storm clouds, Sandburg about the fog, and Ellen Palmer Allerton’s poem Trailing Clouds describes how the lifting of clouds at sunset are like ‘light at eve / After rain’ for those that grieve.
Clouds have been used in literature as far back as Aristophanes’ drama, The Clouds, from which we hear its Chorus of Clouds over Ligeti’s Clocks and Clouds. Clouds provide writers with a versatile metaphor for many things: the solitude of Wordsworth’s famous walk through a field of daffodils, the ancient cities of William Sharp’s Clouds built again in the heights of heaven, the darkening clouds of friendships sounded as in Shakespeare’s Sonnets 33 and 34, the soft fabrics of Julia’s Bed in Herrick’s poem, or the white napkin in Derek Walcott’s, and the love songs of Rilke and Brecht that end the programme.
The music is of two main types, the first being generally soft and floating in a way that sounds fitting with the image of clouds scudding gently across the sky, like Bliss’s Elements, Jarnafelt’s Berceuse and Elgar’s Sospiri, and the second characterising rainfall, like Westhoff’s Imitazione de liuto and Bartok’s 4th String Quartet. There are songs about clouds too from Einsamkeit from Schubert’s Winterreise, which echoes the sentiments of Wordsworth’s I wandered lonely as a cloud, Dorothy Squires singing The Little White Cloud that Cried and Vaughan Williams’ The Cloud Capp’d Towers. In the same way that clouds move seamlessly across the sky, each piece follows from the last as if in one continuous movement from the first note of Eric Whitacre’s Cloudburst that begins the programme to the last note of Elgar’s Sospiri at the end.
The Cloud Appreciation Society encourage us to ‘look up, marvel at the ephemeral beauty, and live life with [our] head in the clouds’, so how do we imagine that world to be? This programme is an aural impression of that cloudy world through words and music.
Elizabeth Arno (producer)
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