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Timothy West and Eileen O’Brien with readings on what it means to live longer than 70 years, on Radio 3

Words and Music was produced by Jenny Pitt and Lorna Newman.

Words and Music

Writings by Jan Morris, the world traveller who died in 2020 aged 94, begin and end this programme which explores the idea of longevity in humans and extraordinary lifespans in the natural world, such as whales, ocean quahogs and the redwood trees depicted in Richard Powers’ prize-winning novel ‘The Overstory’. Timothy West and Eileen O’Brien also read extracts from Virginia Woolf, Tove Jansson and George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Back to Methuselah’ – whom the Bible claims lived to 969, long beyond the “natural lifespan” of “threescore years and ten”. Music ranges from Arvo Pärt’s ‘Sarah Was Ninety Years Old’ based on Abraham’s wife in the Book of Genesis, to an ‘Elegy’ by Elliott Carter who lived to be 103, and music performed by Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen who lived to 100, British harpist Sidonie Goossens who lived until she was 105, and the pianist Menahem Pressler who died at the age of 99 earlier this month.

Listen HERE