iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for The Doors of Perception

Sorry, this episode is not currently available on BBC iPlayer Radio

The Doors of Perception

1 hour, 15 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 04 April 2010

The unifying idea behind this edition of Words and Music is that reality is variable and personal. The texts, read by Jim Broadbent and Miranda Richardson, cover the best part of 2000 years from the Bible's Book of Revelation, to last year's "Late" by Christopher Reid.

It's striking that, despite the various ways of coming to that reality (religion, a refined sensibility, illness, mind-altering drugs), these visions share many similarities. The weird animal hell-on-earth of Revelation is echoed in Thomas De Quincey's opium nightmares; Baudelaire's bedroom (while he's on a high, at least) is as perfect and intoxicating as the heavenly paradise described by the fourth-Century St Ephrem. Coleridge's trippy "Kubla Khan" features another Oriental paradise with hints of something disturbing but distant; Alice's mushroom has very peculiar effects. The experience of Julian of Norwich, alternating between ecstasy and pain, and the fevered ravings of Sylvia Plath are strangely similar; Blake sees the infinite in the small and apparently insignificant, and after a long marriage Christopher Reid still feels the presence of his dead wife. Funnily enough, it's Aldous Huxley with his rather too well organised mescalin experiment who stays earthbound. The music ranges from Bach to Zappa, by way of (among others) Mahler, Ravel, Debussy, Messiaen, Crumb and Cage.

Producer: David Papp.

Music Played

27 items
  • Image for Gustav Mahler

    Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 7 (1st movement [excerpt])

    Performers: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (conductor)

    Deutsche Grammophon 455 513-2

  • William Blake

    Auguries of Innocence [beginning] read by Miranda Richardson

  • William Blake

    The Marriage of Heaven and Hell [excerpt] read by Jim Broadbent

  • Image for Gustav Mahler

    Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" (5th movement [excerpt])

    Performers: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle (conductor)

    EMI CDS 7 47962 8

  • St Ephrem the Syrian

    Hymns on Paradise: Hymn VI [excerpt] read by Miranda Richardson

  • Image for Maurice Ravel

    Maurice Ravel Asie (from Shéhérazade) [excerpt]

    Performers: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo), Cleveland Orchestra, Pierre Boulez (conductor)

    Deutsche Grammophon 477 5082

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Kubla Khan: or, A Vision in a Dream read by Jim Broadbent

  • Image for James Rhodes

    James Rhodes Pagodes [excerpt]

    Arranger: Percy Grainger Performers: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle (conductor)

    EMI 5 56412 2

  • Aldous Huxley

    The Doors of Perception [excerpt: Huxley looks at his trousers] read by Jim Broadbent

  • Image for George Crumb

    George Crumb Black Angels [excerpt]

    Performers: Kronos Quartet

    Nonesuch 7559-79242-2

  • St John the Divine

    Book of the Revelation of St John: Chapter 9, verses 2 - 9 read by Miranda Richardson

  • Image for Frank Zappa

    Frank Zappa Prelude to King Kong

    Performers: Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention

    Zappa Records CDD ZAP 3, CD 1,

  • Image for Béla Bartók

    Béla Bartók Béla Bartók - The Chase (from The Miraculous Mandarin)

    Performers: London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (conductor)

    Deutsche Grammophon 410 598-21, Tr 9

  • Thomas De Quincey

    Confessions of an English Opium-Eater [excerpt: De Quincey’s opium nightmare]

  • Image for Johann Sebastian Bach

    Johann Sebastian Bach Aria: Kommt ihr angefochtnen Sünder (from Cantata No. 30)

    Performers: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mezzo), Orchestra of Emmanuel Music, Craig Smith (conductor)

    Avie AV2130

  • Lewis Carroll

    Alice in Wonderland [excerpt: Alice and the caterpillar] read by Miranda Richardson

  • Image for Grace Slick

    Grace Slick White Rabbit

    Performers: Jefferson Airplane

    RCA 828796 7917 2 CD 1

  • Image for Olivier Messiaen

    Olivier Messiaen Louange à l'Éternité (from Quatuor pour la fin du temps)

    Performers: Steven Isserlis (cello), Olli Mustonen (piano)

    Decca 452 899-2

  • Charles Baudelaire

    La chambre double read by Jim Broadbent

  • Image for Dmitri Shostakovich

    Dmitri Shostakovich String Quartet No. 11 in F minor: 3rd movement "Recitative

    Performers: Jerusalem Quartet

    Harmonia Mundi HMC 901953,

  • Image for John Sheppard

    John Sheppard Media in vita in morte sum [excerpt]

    Performers: Gabrieli Consort/Paul MacCreesh

    DG 477 6605

  • Showing of Love: Chapter 15 [excerpt] read by Miranda Richardson

    Julian of Norwich (translated by Julia Bolton Holloway)

  • Image for Franz Schubert

    Franz Schubert String Quintet in C major: 2nd movement, Adagio [excerpt]

    Performers: Alban Berg String Quartet & Heinrich Schiff (cello)

    EMI 5 66890 2

  • Sylvia Plath

    Fever 103° read by Miranda Richardson

  • Image for Franz Schubert

    Franz Schubert String Quintet in C major: 2nd movement, Adagio [continued]

    Performers: Alban Berg String Quartet & Heinrich Schiff (cello)

    EMI 5 66890 2

  • Christopher Reid

    Late read by Jim Broadbent

  • Image for John Cage

    John Cage In a Landscape

    Performers: Alexei Lubimov (piano)

    ECM 461 812-2

  • Jim Broadbent

    Jim Broadbent

  • Miranda Richardson

    Miranda Richardson

  • Producer note

    Mahler at his most free, time-stand-still, and eastern provides the background for the first three texts, beginning with excerpts from Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence” and “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. In just a handful of lines Blake demonstrates the mind’s limitless scope, if only “the doors of perception were cleansed”.

    So, the journey through a variety of perceptions is begun. First stop, an intoxicating Paradise (one of several we will encounter), courtesy of St Ephrem the Syrian. Staying in the orient, Ravel’s “Asie” leads us to one of our three opium addicts, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his drugs poem “Kubla Khan” – his is a paradise with sinister (if distant) echoes. And this oriental fantasy with its “sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice” is evoked by Grainger’s chiming arrangement of Debussy’s “Pagodes”. Beside Coleridge’s vivid fantasy, Aldous Huxley’s trouser-gazing during his mescalin experiment appears a mite prosaic.

    A sharp shock from George Crumb’s “Black Angels” plunges us headlong into The Book of Revelation. The locusts’ buzzing becomes the “sound of chariots of many horses running to battle” with one of Frank Zappa’s psychedelic bass lines. Next, a frenetic nightmare chase by Bartok into the drug-induced dreams of that most famous of nineteenth-century addicts, Thomas De Quincey. A family man, De Quincey is woken by his adoring children and a Bach aria that seems to combine both innocence and sadness.

    A hookah-smoking caterpillar, a mushroom, and a little girl. Like so much she imbibes in Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice finds that eating the mushroom has peculiar results; Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit” lists both those and others. With the unlikely paring of Messiaen at his most dreamily spiritual and, addict No. 3, Charles Baudelaire, our trip has really taken off. But, with a knock on the door, reality soon hits home and his hateful life resumes with all the bleakness of a Shostakovich Quartet.

    Julian of Norwich alternates between ecstasy and unbearable pain to the tune of John Sheppard’s “Media in vita morte sum”, and Shubert’s Quintet introduces and ends Sylvia Plath’s fevered ravings. To close, Christopher Reid’s movingly understated “Late” and time to reflect, with Cage’s static and dreamy “In a Landscape”.

    David Papp, producer


Discover Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas season

Explore the life, work and legacy of the Welsh poet on the centenary of his birth.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss