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Nature and the City

Poetry and prose on the lives and fortunes of plants, animals and humans from the changing metropolis. With poems by Phillip Larkin, John Keats and Rainer Maria Rilke.

Poets and composers have long sung the virtues of the green spaces and the wildlife encountered in our urban centres. Ottorino Respighi celebrates the birds and pine trees of Rome, and Rufus Wainwright sings through all weathers and the wild flowers of Berlin’s Tiergarten park. Matthew Arnold, in Kensington Gardens, marvels at the 'endless, active life' he finds all about him at his feet and in the air.

Human cities might, though, be viewed as islands too, pushing out and paving over the natural world, towering evidence of the anthropocentric. For the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, 'the big cities are not true; they betray the day, the night, animals and children' while Edna St Vincent Millay mourns the loss of the 'thin and sweet' music of dancing tree-leaves, drowned out in the 'shrieking city air' of horns and alarms and industry evoked in the music of Steve Reich. And as some writers begin to dream of green hills and escaping the din of the metropolis, the forces of nature are already gathering inside the city walls: rabbits, herds of deer, bears and the sea begin to re-wild and reclaim the human spaces, reminding us that, for all our skyscrapers, we are not separate from but of nature.

Produced by Phil Smith
A Reduced Listening Production for BBC Radio 3

1 hour, 14 minutes

Last on

Sun 30 Jun 2019 17:30

Music Played

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

  • 00:01

    Lorenz Hart

    A Tree In The Park

    Performer: Sarah Vaughan. Composer: Richard Rodgers.
    • Great Songs From Hit Shows.
    • Mercury.
    • MGP-2-100.
    • 1.
  • Matthew Arnold

    Lines Written in Kensington Gardens, read by Osi Okerafor.

  • 00:05

    George Gershwin

    Second Rhapsody For Orchestra with Piano

    Conductor: Michael Tilson Thomas. Orchestra: Los Angeles Philharmonic.
    • Rhapsody In Blue, Second Rhapsody, Preludes, Unpublished Piano Works.
    • CBS Masterworks.
    • IM 39699.
    • 1.
  • Meg Kearney

    Nature Poetry (for William Matthews), Read by Veronica Quilligan

  • 00:09

    Heitor Villa‐Lobos

    Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1, III. "Fuga" (Conversa)

    Conductor: Pierre Bartholomée. Orchestra: Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège.
    • Chôros XII For Orchestra, Chôros VII, Bachiana Brasileira No. 1.
    • Cypres ‎.
    • CYP1623.
    • 5.
  • John Keats

    From a Letter, March 1819, read by Veronica Quilligan.

  • 00:13

    Manning Sherwin

    A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square

    Performer: Elsie Carlisle. Lyricist: Eric Maschwitz.
    • Radio Sweetheart No.1.
    • Living Era ‎.
    • CD AJA 5282.
    • 24.
  • John Keats

    To One Who Has Been Long in City Pent, read by Osi Okerafor.

  • 00:16

    Olivier Messiaen

    Le Merle noir

    Performer: Karlheinz Zöller. Performer: Aloys Kontarsky.
    • Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony, Quatuor pour la fin du temps & Le merle noir.
    • Warner Classics.
    • 5865252.
    • 1.
  • John Drinkwater

    Blackbird, read by Veronica Quilligan.

  • 00:20


    Oh, What A Beautiful City

    Performer: Marian Anderson. Performer: Franz Rupp.
    • Oh! What A Beautiful City.
    • His Master's Voice.
    • D. A. N. 1486.
    • 1.
  • 00:21

    Kaija Saariaho

    Sept Papillons for Solo Cello

    Performer: Dirk Wietheger.
    • Sept Papillons for Solo Cello.
    • Label Musikfabrik.
    • 1.
  • 00:22

    Andrea Belfi


    • Natura Morta.
    • Miasmah.
    • MIALP029.
    • 3.
  • Philip Larkin

    Here, read by the author (BBC 1964)

  • Chinua Achebe

    Benin Road, read by Osi Okerafor.

  • 00:25

    György Ligeti

    Étude XV

    Music Arranger: Joseph Branciforte. Performer: Mariel Roberts.
    • Ambit.
    • Cuneiform Records.
    • Rune 376.
    • 8.
  • Climate Protests

    London, 2019

  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    The City And The Sea, read by Veronica Quilligan.

  • W.H. Auden

    The Capital, read by Osi Okerafor.

  • 00:30

    Johann Strauss II

    Accelerationen, Op.234 (Live)

    Orchestra: Vienna Philharmonic. Conductor: Lorin Maazel.
    • 1994 New Year's Concert.
    • Sony Classical ‎.
    • SK 46694.
    • 2.
  • John Clare

    The Ants, read by Veronica Quilligan.

  • 00:35

    Justin Heinrich Knecht

    Le portrait musical de la nature: IV. L'orage s'appaise peu a peu

    Conductor: Sergio Lamberto. Orchestra: Torino Philharmonic Orchestra.
    • Le Portrait musical de la nature & Philidor: Overtures.
    • Naxos.
    • 8573066.
    • 1.
  • Steve Reich

    City Life (Pile Driver - Alarms)

    • Works: 1965-1995.
    • Nonesuch ‎.
    • 79451-2.
    • 4.
  • Rainer Maria Rilke [trns Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy]

    From The Book of Poverty and Death, read by Veronica Quilligan.

  • Federico Garcia Lorca [trns Greg Simon / Steven F White]

    New York (Office and Denunciation), read by Osi Okerafor.

  • A Voice In A Tree

    Berlin, 2016

  • 00:44

    Terry Callier

    City Side And Countryside

    • Essential, The Very Best Of....
    • Universal.
    • 111 781-2.
    • 14.
  • Charles Dickens

    The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, read by Osi Okerafor.

  • John Cage

    A Flower (1950)

    Performer: Jay Clayton. Ensemble: The Donald Knaack Percussion Ensemble.
    • Three Constructions.
    • Tomato ‎.
    • 2696172.
    • 2.
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson

    Flower in the crannied wall, read by Veronica Quilligan.

  • Timothy Morton

    From Being Ecological, read by Osi Okerafor.

  • 00:53

    Ottorino Respighi

    Pines Of Rome, P. 141 - 3. The Pines Of The Janiculum

    Orchestra: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Herbert von Karajan.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • 4101452.
    • 3.
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay

    City Trees, read by Veronica Quilligan.

  • 00:59

    Rufus Wainwright

    Tiergarten (Supermayer Remix)

    Remix Artist: SuperMayer.
    • Tiergarten (Supermayer Remix).
    • Polydor ‎.
    • STARS 06.
    • 1.
  • Sarah Kirsch

    Nature reserve (trns Anne Stokes), read by Veronica Quilligan.

  • 01:02


    The Fox

    • At The Gate Of Horn.
    • Tradition Everest.
    • TLP 1025.
    • 5.
  • Joanne Key

    The Day the Deer Came, read by Osi Okerafor.

  • 01:06

    Michael Daugherty

    Fire and Blood: III. Assembly Line

    Performer: Ida Kavafian. Orchestra: Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Neeme Järvi.
    • Fire & Blood • MotorCity Triptych • Raise The Roof.
    • Naxos.
    • 8.559372.
    • 3.
  • Tony Hoagland

    Wild, read by Veronica Quilligan

  • 01:10

    Talking Heads

    Nothing But Flowers

    • Naked.
    • Sire.
    • 9 27992-7.
    • 1.
  • Ben Okri

    from The Age of Magic, read by Osi Okerafor

  • 01:12

    György Ligeti

    Études, Book 3: No. 15, White on White

    Performer: Kei Takumi.
    • Complete Piano Music.
    • BIS.
    • BISCD1683/84.
    • 1.


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