Many of us today think of Vincent Price as the face, and an even more so the voice, of modestly budgeted midcentury horror movies. But over his long and prolific career, he showed just what multitudes he could contain. Price could elevate schlock, of course, but he could also rise to the challenge of masterpieces: here on Open Culture, we’ve previously featured his readings, on record and on camera, of the work of Edgar Allan Poe, the original master of the psychologically troubling tale. Today, we have for you a set of recitations well outside the realm of the scary: Price reading the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, free on Spotify (whose software you can download here).
Shelley, as anyone interested in 19th-century English poetry knows, didn’t have a long career, but the candle that burns quickly, as they say, burns bright. Before his death at the age of 29 in a storm on the Gulf of Spezia, he managed to write such immortal works as Music, When Soft Voices Die, Ozymandias, To a Skylark, Ode to the West Wind, and the drama Prometheus Unbound, all of which we hear Price read whole, or in part, in this playlist. And for its final four tracks, we hear famed English stage actor Ralph Richardson deliver four poems from the equally enduring legacy of Shelley’s rough contemporary Samuel Taylor Coleridge, including Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
The vividness of the imagery and the timeless resonance of the themes in both poets’ work hold up well on the page, but no matter how many times you’ve read it, hearing it interpreted by performers like Price and Richardson can let you experience it in a new way. Their dramatic backgrounds empower them to bring out levels of emotion you might never have felt in your own reading; certainly Price’s world-weary yet faintly arch tone does well with Ozymandias‘ gaze-into-the-abyss evocation of hubris, impermanence, and the ultimate fate in oblivion of all things great and small. Maybe the man who starred in The Pit and the Pendulum never really strayed far from horror after all.
The Price/Richardson reading will be added to our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.