A Cradle Song

The story of a rare collaboration between the Irish composer Brian Boydell and American poet John Berryman. First broadcast as a Lyric Feature on Sunday 22nd March 2020 at 6 pm on RTÉ lyric fm. Re-broadcast on Sunday 2oth June 2021.

Listen back on the RTÉ website: https://www.rte.ie/radio/lyricfm/the-lyric-feature/programmes/2021/0620/1229322-the-lyric-feature-sunday-20-june-2021/

Back in 1937, when both were students at Clare College in Cambridge, the Irish composer Brian Boydell and the American poet John Berryman met and struck up a friendship.

In this programme, Claire Cunningham tells the story of the relationship between these two very different men, and we hear a performance of their collaboration on A Cradle Song, broadcast here for the first time.

Boydell and Berryman bonded over their love of music and for the poetry of Yeats. After an extraordinary evening on 22nd February 1937, later known as ‘The Curlew Party’, when they listened in the dark to the unsettling music of Peter Warlock, they decided to work together.

Berryman wrote a poem called A Cradle Song and Boydell set it to music. As far as we know, this is their one and only collaboration.

Brian Boydell (Credit: RTE Photographic Archive)

The contributors to the programme include Barra Boydell, musicologist and son of the composer Brian Boydell, who has edited his father’s memoir, Rebellious Ferment, published by Cork University Press. We hear more about John Berryman, and the fateful meeting between him and Boydell, from Dr Eve Cobain, who wrote her PhD thesis on music and movement in the poetry of John Berryman, and Dr Philip Coleman of the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, editor of a volume of essays on John Berryman and of a forthcoming volume of John Berryman’s literary correspondence.

The programme ends with a performance of A Cradle Song by tenor and RTÉ lyric fm presenter Vlad Smishkewych and Dr Yonit Kosovske, lecturer in music at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick.

Vlad Smishkewych and Yonit Kosovske

The producers wish to thank Barra Boydell, Martha Berryman Mayou and the Estate of John Berryman, and publishers Faber & Faber for their assistance in making this programme.

The programme is presented and produced by Claire Cunningham. The performance of A Cradle Song was recorded and mastered by Róisín Berg and sound supervision for the programme was by Tinpot Productions.

A Cradle Song is a Rockfinch Production for RTÉ lyric fm funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland from the Television Licence Fee.