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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).

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 4 Jun 2017 17:30

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Eric Whitacre

    Cloudburst

    Performer: Polyphony, Stephen Layton (director).
    • HYPERION CDA67543.
    • 8.
  • PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY

    The Cloud, read by Adjoa Andoh

  • EDWARD THOMAS

    The clouds that are so light, read by Simon Russell Beale

  • 00:00

    Tan Dun

    Floating Clouds (Eight Memories in Watercolour, Op.1: No.7)

    Performer: Lang Lang (piano).
    • DG 474 820-2.
    • 16.
  • 00:00

    BLISS

    Elements (Metamorphic Variations, No.1)

    Performer: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, David Lloyd Jones (conductor).
    • NAXOS 8.572316.
    • 9.
  • EMILY DICKINSON

    A Curious Cloud surprised the Sky, read by Adjoa Andoh

  • JONATHAN SWIFT

    Gulliver’s Travels (extract)

  • 00:00

    Ralph Vaughan Williams

    The Cloud Capp’d Towers

    Performer: Tenebrae, Nigel Short (director).
    • SIGNUM SIGCD904.
    • 7.
  • 00:00

    JAMES WOOD

    Cloud-Polyphonies (extract from ii. Clouds)

    Performer: Yale Percussion Group, Robert Van Sice (director).
    • NMC NMCD223.
    • 3.
  • WILLIAM SHARP

    Clouds, read by Adjoa Andoh

  • YANG CHI, translated by JONATHAN CHAVES

    Nesting among Clouds, read by Simon Russell Beale

  • 00:00

    SCHUBERT

    Einsamkeit (Winterreise)

    Performer: Mathias goerne (baritone), Christoph Eschenbach (piano).
    • HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902107.
    • 12.
  • 00:00

    Claude Debussy

    Nuages (Nocturnes for orchestra, No.1)

    Performer: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink (conductor).
    • PHILIPS 4387422.
    • CD2 Tr.2.
  • WORDSWORTH

    I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, read by Simon Russell Beale

  • SHAKESPEARE

    Sonnet 33, read by Adjoa Andoh

  • CLOUD APPRECIATION SOCIETY

    The Manifesto of the Cloud Appreciation Society, read by Adjoa Andoh and Simon Russell Beale

  • 00:00

    WESTHOFF

    , Imitazione del liuto - presto (Sonata for violin and continuo No.2)

    Performer: Daniel Hope (violin), Stefan Maass and Stefan Rath (harpsichords).
    • DG 4779165.
    • 23.
  • FROST

    Lost in Heaven, read by Simon Russell Beale

  • 00:00

    Meredith Monk

    Fields Clouds

    Performer: Johanna Arnold, Joan Barber, Andrea Goodman, Naaz Hosseini, Meredith Monk, Robert Een, John Eppler, Ching Gonzalez, Wayne Hankin, Nicky Paraiso, Timothy Sawher (vocalists), Nurit Tiles (keyboard).
    • ECM 839 624-2.
    • 6.
  • 00:00

    SOUND RECORDING

    The Power of Mother Earth (extract)

    Performer: Recorded by Symbiosis.
    • SYMBIOSIS SYMCD2009.
    • 6.
  • RILKE, translated A. POULIN, JR.

    These laborers of rain, read by Adjoa Andoh

  • 00:00

    JARNAFELT

    Berceuse

    Performer: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi (conductor).
    • DG 471 7472.
    • 6.
  • ROBERT HERRICK

    Her Bed, read by Simon Russell Beale

  • DEREK WALCOTT

    A Long, white, summer cloud, read by Adjoa Andoh

  • 00:00

    Zoltán Kodály

    9 Epigrams, No.3

    Performer: Natalie Clein (cello), Julius Drake (piano).
    • HYPERION 9B70535B.
    • 7.
  • SANDBURG

    Fog, read by Simon Russell Beale

  • 00:00

    Sylvain Chauveau

    Nuage II (Nuage – music for two films by Sebastien Betbeder)

    Performer: Sylvain Chauveau.
    • 4.
  • 00:00

    Franz Liszt

    Nuages gris

    Performer: Krystian Zimerman (piano).
    • DG 447 9525.
    • 2.
  • SHAKESPEARE

    Sonnet 34, read by Simon Russell Beale

  • ALEXANDER POSEY

    Two Clouds, read by Adjoa Andoh and Simon Russell Beale

  • 00:00

    BARTOK

    Non troppo lento (Quartet for strings no. 4 (Sz. 91), 4th movement)

    Performer: Emerson String Quartet.
    • DG 4778168.
    • 6.
  • YEATS

    These are the Clouds, read by Adjoa Andoh

  • 00:00

    György Ligeti

    Clocks and Clouds (closing extract)

    Performer: Cappella Amsterdam, Daniel Reuss (chorus master), Ask Ensemble, Schonberg Ensemble, Reinbert de Leeuw (director).
    • WARNER 2564696735.
    • CD3 Tr.3.
  • ARISTOPHANES, translated by PETER MEINECK

    Chorus of the Clouds, from The Clouds (extract), read by Adjoa Andoh and Simon Russell Beale

  • RUPERT BROOKE

    Clouds, read by Simon Russell Beale

  • Ervin Drake

    There’s a big blue cloud next to heaven

    Singer: Perry Como. Orchestra: Mitchell Ayres and His Orchestra.
  • ELLEN PALMER ALLERTON

    Trailing Clouds, read by Adjoa Andoh

  • 00:01

    Marc-André Hamelin

    Music Box (Con intimissimo)

    Performer: Marc-Andre Hamelin (piano).
    • HYPERION CDA67789.
    • 16.
  • HENRY THOREAU

    Journal, 25th December 1851, read by Simon Russell Beale

  • 00:01

    Edward Elgar

    Sospiri, Op.70

    Performer: BBC Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Davis (conductor).
    • TELDEC 450992374 2.
    • 6.
  • RILKE, translated by A. POULIN, JR.

    Evening Clouds, read by Adjoa Andoh

  • BRECHT, translated by DEREK MAHON

    A Cloud, read by Simon Russell Beale

Producer's Note

‘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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