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Atonement

Duration:
1 hour
First broadcast:
Sunday 10 January 2010

A sequence of poetry, prose and music on the theme of atonement, with readings by Simon Russell Beale and Adjoa Andoh.

Featuring works by John Milton, Emily Dickinson, Anton Chekhov, CS Lewis, Antjie Krog and Kit Wright, accompanied by the music of Samuel Barber, Max Bruch, Benjamin Wallfisch, Dario Marianelli and Barry Adamson.

  • Introduction

    Don’t leave it too late to put it right… in this week’s Words and Music I’ve sought to explore the way conscience compels us to find ways to make amends for our wrongs and those of others, and to look at the suffering and frustration that can come with those attempts to clean the slate. But I’ve also tried to celebrate the redemption that can be found in religion, acts of recompense, and the human spirit.

    The programme begins with Duke Ellington’s ‘Please Forgive Me’. Recorded in 1938, its gentle regret takes on a more urgent poignancy as the insecurity of the Second World War potentially leaves misdeeds unresolved. We hear the despair of Bryony, the central character in Ian McEwan’s novel, ‘Atonement’, as she throws herself into a daily grind of work in an attempt to atone for the deception that changed the lives of those around her. And as Dario Marionelli’s score implores ‘Rescue Me’, there is an offer of redemption through the atonement of Christ in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, later echoed in the resurrection of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’, and in the journey of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. But in a world where ills can seem so great it is, perhaps, only through religion that a sense of atonement on a larger scale can be imagined. The Chorale of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei (an adagio on Hebrew melodies for the Jewish Day of Atonement) echo our deep desire for things to be ‘made right’ rather than merely understood.

  • .

    In secular music, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings seems to convey the yearning for atonement, and so I have used it as a backdrop for Kit Wright’s poem ‘Hoping it Might Be So’, in which the writer imagines a world where the most horrible wrongs will be put right. And in the final part of Goethe’s poem ‘Trilogy of Passion’, the beauty of music is itself a route to atonement: “Music with angel-pinions hovers there, To pierce man’s being to its inmost core”. In his composition of Requiem, Benjamin Wallfisch offers music to the memory of his great-grandparents, who died in Auschwitz. It is played by his father and brother, with his grandmother Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who survived the Holocaust through playing the cello in the camp orchestra at Auschwitz and later, Bergen-Belsen. And it was as a member of the French armed forces that Messiaen was captured and imprisoned in a German POW camp, where he wrote his Quartet for the End of Time, which took a passage of the Book of Revelation – the culmination of Christ’s atonement - as its starting point.

    Just as we can seek to atone for our crimes and misdemeanours, so can the state demand it. Nick Cave’s ‘The Mercy Seat’ is a graphic description of the journey of a convicted murderer sentenced to death. But the bleakness of that situation is countered by the collective optimism of the South African National Anthem ‘Nkosi Sikele IAfrika; sung for decades in a spirit of defiance and hope, it prefaces Antjie Krog’s poem: ‘Country of Grief and Grace’, which was used in the final document of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

    Sadly, too often, there is little we can do to atone for life’s wrongs – but it is there in the small things, as in David Scott’s ‘The Flower Rota’ two mothers weekly arrange flowers for their two dead soldier sons. And as we close the programme with Dario Marianelli’s Denouement, Simon Russell Beale reads Felix Dennis’s ‘I am Listening Now…’, a reminder that we must take our time to make amends whilst we still can.

    Producer - Lisa Davis.

  • Playlist

    Times are from the start of the programme

    00:00:00
    ELLINGTON, GORDON, MILLS
    Please Forgive Me
    Duke Ellington and His Orchestra
    CLASSICS 726

    00:00:29
    IAN McEWAN
    Atonement
    Adjoa Andoh (reader)

    00:01:18
    DARIO MARIANELLI
    Rescue Me
    The English Chamber Orchestra
    Benjamin Wallfisch – conductor
    UCJ 4766195

    00:04:36
    JOHN MILTON
    Paradise Lost
    Simon Russell Beale (reader)

    00:04:58
    JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
    St Matthew Passion
    Concentus musicus Wien
    Wiener Sängerknaben; Arnold Schoenberg Chor
    Nikolaus Harnoncourt – conductor
    TELDEC 8573-810362

    00:10:52
    C.S. LEWIS
    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
    Adjoa Andoh (reader)

    00:12:45
    SAMUEL BARBER
    Adagio for Strings
    Leopold Stokowski Symphony Orchestra
    Leopold Stokowski – conductor
    EMI CDC 7 47521 2

    00:14:24
    KIT WRIGHT
    Hoping It Might Be So
    Simon Russell Beale (reader)

    00:19:10
    DAVID SCOTT
    Flower Rota
    Adjoa Andoh (reader)

    00:19:52
    PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
    Khotel by v yedinoye slovo, Op.0 No.7
    Sergei Leiferkus - baritone
    Semion Skigin – piano
    CONIFER 75605 51266 2

    00:21:28
    ANTON CHEKHOV
    The Cherry Orchard
    Adjoa Andoh and Simon Russell Beale (readers)

    00:23:10
    MAX BRUCH
    Kol Nidrei, op. 47
    Orchestre Lamoureux
    Pierre Fournier – cello
    Jean Martinon – conductor
    DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4291552

    00:26:23
    BIBLE (KING JAMES VERSION)
    Leviticus 16: 1-6
    Simon Russell Beale (reader)

    00:33:38
    JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
    Trilogy of Passion: III. Atonement
    Adjoa Andoh (reader)

  • .

    00:34:04
    BENJAMIN WALLFISCH
    Requiem
    Anita, Raphael and Simon Wallfisch - celli
    QUARTZ QTZ 2049

    00:37:49
    FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA
    Crucifixion
    Simon Russell Beale (reader)

    00:40:46
    B. ADAMSON & A. ROSS
    On the Edge of Atonement
    Barry Adamson
    CD STUMM 105

    00:44:02
    MELISSANTHI
    Atonement
    Adjoa Andoh (reader)

    00:44:48
    OLIVIER MESSIAEN
    Quatuor pour le fin du temps: Intermède
    Vera Beths – violin
    George Pieterson – clarinet
    Anner Bijlsma - cello
    PHILIPS 422 834-2

    00:46:42
    SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
    The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
    Simon Russell Beale (reader)

    00:47:54
    EMILY DICKINSON
    Remorse
    Adjoa Andoh (reader)

    00:48:32
    NICK CAVE
    The Mercy Seat (Acoustic version)
    Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
    MUTE CDMUTEL11

    00:52:16
    ENOCH MANKAYI SONTONGA
    Nkosi Sikele Iafrika
    Poppie Nongena Cast
    HANNIBAL HNCD 8301

    00:54:24
    ANTJIE KROG
    Country of Grief and Grace
    Adjoa Andoh (reader)

    00:55:35
    DARIO MARIANELLI
    Denouement
    The English Chamber Orchestra
    Benjamin Wallfisch – conductor
    UCJ 4766195

    00:56:26
    FELIX DENNIS
    I am listening now…
    Simon Russell Beale (reader)

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