From ancient ballads: putting Coleridge and Purcell together

Katharina Spreckelsen, our principal oboe who has curated the programme for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner on 5 October, explains why we've put together a composer and a poet who live over a hundred years apart.

There are many elements of Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ which intrigued me. Its demonstration of the power of poetry and language reminded me of song settings by Henry Purcell and Coleridge’s choice of the ancient ballad form supported my going back in time to reach for music which is more than a hundred years older than the poem.

It’s a poem about a man with a story to tell – and retell – a story about guilt and penance, which takes us on a journey from a wedding into a world full of challenging supernatural encounters.

"'Tis Nature's Voice; thro' all the moving Wood Of Creatures understood: The Universal Tongue to none Of all her num'rous Race unknown."
from Hail, Bright Cecilia!

It is also an ecological reading which speaks strongly to us now as we hear how ‘both man and bird and beast’ are intertwined, urging us to rethink our relationship with the natural world. Purcell’s song ‘Tis nature’s voice’ becomes a central part of the programme, accompanied by some of his most glorious vocal and instrumental music. This creates an evening where sublime music and language go hand in hand to convey a profound message for our age.

You can read more about Coleridge’s poem and it’s inspiration in this article from the British Library. Listen to the sound of Coleridge’s words in our video with Rory Kinnear reciting an extract from Part 1.

"He prayeth best, who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us He made and loveth all."
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Part VII