• Judith Weir
  • The Voice of Desire (2003)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the BBC Proms

  • pf
  • Mezzo Soprano
  • 12 min

Programme Note

All the songs in The Voice of Desire are conversations between humans and birds. In each case, the birds seem to have a more sophisticated viewpoint that their human hearers.

In the opening song, The Voice of Desire, (Robert Bridges) the narrator mistakes the beautiful song of nightingales for an expression of carefree pleasure in a lovely environment. Not at all, reply the nightingales, we live in a barren place, our song tells of thwarted desire and forbidden hopes which we can only express at night.

White Eggs in the Bush is from ‘Hunter Poems of the Yoruba’ translated by Ulli Beier. The cries of the blue cuckoo and the red-bellied coucal in the African bush are no mere birdsong; human listeners do not understand these warnings about the outbreak of war and the destruction that will follow.

Written on Terrestrial Things (a setting of Thomas Hardy’s great poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’) is set in a dead landscape at the depth of winter. Suddenly a joyous thrush melody breaks out. Its ecstatic expression is completely at odds with human perceptions of such a dismal evening. Has nature something to remind us, if only we would listen?

Sweet Little Red Feet (John Keats) is not dialogue; the bird in this partnership is dead (‘I had a dove and the sweet dove died’.) But the implied reply by the dead dove to the insistent poet might be that one can be smothered by too much passionate affection.

The song cycle was commissioned by the BBC for Alice Coote, and first performed by her and Julius Drake (piano) in a BBC Proms Chamber Music concert in London on 11 August 2003.


The Voice of Desire - The voice of desire (Judith Weir)
The Voice of Desire - White eggs in the bush (Judith Weir)
The Voice of Desire - Written on terrestrial things (Judith Weir)
The Voice of Desire - Sweet little red feet (Judith Weir)


Score sample