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The Silence (Carcanet, 2019) includes a long poem about Jean Sibelius.

John has also been collaborating with the musician and scholar Philip Lancaster ( for his tree-themed composition inspired by the work of Housman and Gurney, which will be premiered by Toby Spence and Michael Trainor at the Ludlow Song Weekend on April 3rd 2020:

There have been ongoing collaborations with Cecilia McDowall ( as part of Roderick Williams’s exploration of the song-cycles of Schubert. Williams recently performed some of these settings in Birmingham and Dulwich, and there will be a further performance in Edinburgh on July 25th 2020. John has also provided texts fore a new composition by Roderick Williams to be premiered by the Waynflete Singers in Winchester on March 28th:

John’s cycle of poems, Falls, commissioned by the widely acclaimed Dunedin Consort ( for Morrison’s engineering, was set to music by Paul Mottram and given its first performance in the Wigmore Hall in June 2000.  It has subsequently toured in Scotland and Canada. In her review of the concert for Edinburgh Evening News Susan Nickalls wrote:

"At the heart of the Dunedin Consort’s American journey is ‘Falls’, a new commission by Paul Mottram to poems by John Greening. The falls in question are not just any old stream of water, but the mighty Niagara itself.  However, here they bear silent witness to the weird and wonderful antics by people who became famous through their association with the Falls.These include diver Sam Patch who drowned, the tightrope walker Blondin and Annie Edson Taylor who went over the Falls in a barrel declaring with hindsight: ‘Nobody ought ever to do that again. Mottram’s inspired settings bring out the element of ridiculousness in each of these bizarre stories without losing sight of the basic human desire to confront and conquer nature…."

Falls was revived and performed by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain at Snape Maltings in summer 2015.

Other collaborations with composers include the poem ‘Sestina for the Six Wives’ from The Coastal Path which was used by the composer James Brown as the basis for his opera, Dearly Beheaded, premiered in Sheffield in February 2004.  James is currently working on a setting of the poem sequence The Tutankhamun Variations.  And in 2008 David Gibbs set John’s cycle of planet poems, Orrery, for a performance by choir and orchestra at Kimbolton School.

John Greening was guest poet on the website of Symphony Hall Birmingham and his poem about the Czech Philharmonic featured in a programme for a concert by that orchestra and Nicola Benedetti. In summer 2014 he read from To the War Poets at the Three Choirs Festival and as part of a recital given by Roderick Williams (who sang at the Last Night of the Proms shortly afterwards) in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s house, Leith Hill Place. He was subsequently commissioned by Roderick Williams to write poems for his Schubert Cycle Project for performance over the next two years, culminating in a series at the Wigmore Hall. Five poems were performed in early 2016 by Jenny Agutter ( as part of the recital at the Globe Theatre and in New York. This latter performance was reviewed in the New York Times:

Recent music reviews for the TLS include biographies of Sibelius, Rubbra, Imogen Holst and essays by Robin Holloway. Poems about music: Holst and Death in Aldeburgh.


The anthology ACCOMPANIED VOICES  (2015, Boydell) is still available. It is a unique book: not only is it a highly readable anthology of some of the most memorable and accessible international writing about classical music, and a moving commentary by one set of practising artists on the work of another.  It is also something of a guide in verse to the great composers. There have been several anthologies of ‘music poems’, but never one which follows the story of western music through from the Renaissance to the twenty-first century, a fact which gives John Greening’s 250-pages an encyclopaedic value. This is in effect a chronological guide to the major composers of the last four hundred years, written in the language which comes closest to music itself – poetry.

Here we begin to realise just how much Ted Hughes or R.S.Thomas took from Beethoven,  or what Bach meant to First World War veteran Ivor Gurney or Holocaust survivor Lotte Kramer. We learn that distinguished contemporary poets Fiona Sampson, Gwen Harwood, Maurice Lindsay had careers in music (and that Gregory Warren Wilson still does); we can read an elegy on Benjamin Britten by his collaborator Ronald Duncan, and a celebration by George Mackay Brown of his friend Peter Maxwell Davies. We discover what instruments and composers today’s poets play – Anne Stevenson writing heart-breakingly about Beethoven, the piano, and her own deafness, for example — as well as the poems that a composer such as Arnold Bax has written. Among other unexpected guest poets, we meet the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. And there are surprising pairings: the Lake District’s Norman Nicholson is drawn to the landscape of Grieg, Wales’s Dannie Abse takes a Jewish perspective on Wagner; Northern Ireland’s Michael Longley senses a relevance to the Troubles in Gustav Mahler. Then there are those poets – John Heath-Stubbs, Peter Porter, Roy Fuller (here presented alongside his distinguished and equally musical son, John Fuller) – who have put music at the very centre of their work.

Readers unaccustomed to poetry anthologies will find in ACCOMPANIED VOICES the same pleasure that they might find in simply putting on a CD and listening. Every page brings something to arrest or transport and an there is extraordinary diversity of response. Ancedote, epiphany, portrait, meditation... but many of these poets offer intellectual insights too and even critiques – there is far more variety here than any straightforward music essay can manage. But readers who feel that they do not know enough about classical music will find that these poems, while informing them, move beyond the mere names of composers and their works, reaching for more universal concerns.

Poet and music lover John Greening adds a substantial introduction and detailed notes on the work of over a hundred poets and their subjects.