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Words and Music : Symphony of a City

Richard Armitage and Emilia Fox were the readers for a programme in BBC Radio 3's Words and Music series called Symphony of a City, first broadcast in September 2010 .

Radio 3 is the BBC's national classical music station. Although its focus is classical music it also broadcasts world music and jazz, and part of its output is speech-based, both drama and non-drama. Its Words and Music series is, as the title suggests, a fusion of speech and music. Each programme presents poetry, prose and music representing a single theme, with two actors chosen to read the texts.

Symphony of a City evoked the movement of a city day - "the beauty, the energy, and the strange terror of city life." It was inspired by the silent city symphony documentary films of the 1920s which looked at the city as both character and subject, presenting impressions of the lives of its inhabitants in their urban environment. Pre-eminent among these films were Walter Ruttman's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), and Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (1929).

The programme included readings from the works of Swift, Dickens, Wordsworth, TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf and William Carlos Williams, and music by Gershwin, Varese, Byrd, Steve Reich and Charles Ives. Further details are given on the BBC website's page about the programme, which also contains an explanation by the producer, Rosie Childs, of how she made her choices to create this "Symphony of a City".



These are the six pieces read by Richard Armitage during the programme. See below for links to the texts of the poems and more information about them.

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, William Wordsworth
(Music: Aaron Copeland, Quiet City)

Overture to a Dance of Locomotives, William Carlos Williams
(Music: Steve Reich, City Life. I ‘Check it out’, followed by George Gershwin, An American in Paris)

Manahattan Transfer, Book II, Chapter V Went to the Animals’ Fair, John Dos Passos
(Music: Edgard Varèse, Ameriques)

Silence, T. S. Eliot

Preludes, T. S. Eliot

A Silent City, Samuel Coleridge


Further Information

Words and Music series at the BBC website
Symphony of a City at the BBC website

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge: text and information at Wikipedia
Overture to a Dance of Locomotives: text at PoemHunter, and analysis of the poem at enotes
Manhattan Transfer: article about the novel at Wikipedia
Silence: text
Preludes: text at the University of Toronto, article about the poem at Wikipedia, and analysis of the imagery of the poem at ReadPrint
A Silent City: image of the printed text at Project Gutenberg

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City at Wikipedia, and to view or download at The Internet Archive
Man with a Movie Camera at Wikipedia, and to view or download at The Internet Archive

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