A work for Narrator and Quartet by Wendy Cope and Roxanna Panufnik


This project brings together a number of strands. The quartet asked Wendy Cope, one of the UK’s pre-eminent poets, to write a series of ten poems to be set to music for quartet and narrator. The poems are a series of portraits of archetypal audience members and one about the performers – they evoke familiar audience and performer experiences. For instance, the struggle with an irritating cough. Or a player flustered by a terrible day of frustrating travel. Wendy Cope is a master at turning mundane emotions into witty but perceptive poems. Unafraid of rhyme and metre, she is unusually accessible to large numbers of people without ever being banal or superficial. Not surprisingly, in 1998 she was the listeners’ choice in a BBC Radio 4 poll to succeed Ted Hughes as Poet Laureate. There resulted a work which exudes lightness of spirit and affection.


Roxanna Panufnik agreed to be the composer. She is one of the UK’s most eminent young composers (www.roxannapanufnik.com) and had already set a previous cycle of Wendy Cope’s poems. She has also written for string quartet several times. She was the ideal person for this assignment, and was very enthusiastic about it. As Julian Haylock says in International Record Review “No matter how demanding the subject matter, she always seems to find a way to set words that sit hand-in-glove with the text… (re: If I Don’t Know, Wendy Cope song-cycle) …such is Panufnik’s blinding musical wit and imagination that she negotiates each setting with a magician’s sleight of hand.”


The narrator is usually Wendy Cope herself but sometimes an actor or actress according to availability and the wishes of the promoter. The quartet have in the past worked with Kate Buffery, Andrew Motion, John Sessions, Janet Suzman, Samuel West and Gabriel Woolf.