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Image for Idleness

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1 hour, 15 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 10 April 2011

The weekly sequence of music, poetry and prose celebrates the art of doing nothing much at all. Claudie Blakley and Tony Haygarth rise from their couches to explore the idle thoughts of Keats, Jerome K. Jerome, Tennyson, Kenneth Grahame and Michel de Montaigne among others, and there is music from the likes of Debussy, Hoagy Carmichael, Vivaldi, Delius and The Kinks. Tune in if you can be bothered...

First broadcast in April 2011.

Music Played

23 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for Johnny Mercer & Hoagy Carmichael

    Johnny Mercer & Hoagy Carmichael Johnny Mercer & Hoagy Carmichael - Lazybones

    Performer: Hoagy Carmichael (voice & piano)

    ASV CDAJA5345 Tr10

  • Silas Weir Mitchell

    Idleness, reader Claudie Blakley

  • Michel de Montaigne

    On Idleness, from ‘Essays’ (excerpt), reader Tony Haygarth

  • Image for Kurt Weill

    Kurt Weill Sloth from 'The Seven Deadly Sins'

    Performer: Members of Hudson Shad, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies (conductor)

    RCA 74321601192 Tr2

  • Jerome K. Jerome

    The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (excerpt), reader Tony Haygarth

  • Image for The Kinks

    The Kinks Sunny Afternoon

    Composer: Ray Davies

    Essential ESSCD592 Disc 1 Tr13

  • James Thomson

    Summer from ‘The Seasons’ (excerpt), reader Tony Haygarth

  • Image for Frédéric Chopin

    Frédéric Chopin Frédéric Chopin - Prelude in C minor, Op. 28 No. 20

    Performer: Llŷr Williams (piano)

    Quartz QTZ2040 Tr20

  • Plato, translator Robert Bridges

    Country Music, reader Claudie Blakley

  • Image for Claude Debussy

    Claude Debussy Prélude à l'après-midi d'une faune

    Performer: Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink (conductor)

    Philips 4164442 Tr4

  • John Keats

    Ode on Indolence, reader Tony Haygarth

  • Image for Charlie Parker's Reboppers

    Charlie Parker's Reboppers Blue in Green

    Performer: Miles Davis (trumpet), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass)

    CBS 460603 2 Tr3

  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson

    The Lotos-Eaters (excerpt), reader Claudie Blakley

  • Image for Sir Hubert Parry

    Sir Hubert Parry The Lotos-Eaters (excerpt)

    Performer: Della Jones (mezzo-soprano), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Matthias Bamert (conductor)

    Chandos CHAN8990, Tr13

  • Robert Fuller Murray

    Indolence, reader Claudie Blakley

  • Image for Bing Crosby & Louis Armstrong

    Bing Crosby & Louis Armstrong Bing Crosby & Louis Armstrong - Gone fishin'

    Composer: Nick & Charles Kenny

    Universal MCBD19538 Tr21

  • Kenneth Grahame

    The Wind in the Willows (excerpt), reader Claudie Blakley

  • Image for Frederick Delius

    Frederick Delius Summer Night on the River

    Performer: Northern Sinfonia of England, Richard Hickox (conductor)

    EMI CDM5650672 Tr4

  • William Shenstone

    Sloth from ‘The Speeches of Sloth and Virtue’, reader Claudie Blakley

  • Image for Jean-Baptiste Lully

    Jean-Baptiste Lully Sommeil (from 'Atys')

    Performer: Les Arts Florissants, William Christie (director)

    Harmonia Mundi HMC90125759 Disc 2 Tr9

  • Joseph Crosby Lincoln

    The Ant and the Grasshopper, reader Tony Haygarth

  • Image for Lerner & Loewe

    Lerner & Loewe With a Little Bit of Luck (from 'My Fair Lady')

    Performer: Stanley Holloway (voice), John Alderson and John McLiam Band, André Previn (conductor)

    CBS CD70000 Tr5

  • Robert William Service

    Laziness, reader Tony Haygarth

  • Producer's Note

    Idleness has always appealed to me. In fact, when I was young I was quite an expert on it in a practical kind of way, but the cares and concerns of adult life have long since crowded it out. At least, however, I can take this chance to remember what it was like to do nothing much without being bothered by the thought that there is something I ought to be doing. And if by my airing these lost feelings Radio 3 listeners are encouraged to put down their tools or their books or their bills to be paid or whatever else it is that’s distracting them from the true path of simply being, well so much the better.

    Not that the background knowledge that there are tasks being left undone has to be an obstacle to the enjoyment of idleness. In Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome memorably remarked that ‘work fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours’, but I have found a longer essay by him on the thrill of committed inactivity from his irresistibly titled Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. For the Mole, too, in The Wind in the Willows, the pleasure of going out into the spring air is precisely that of having abandoned his cleaning.

    The first warm morning of this year’s spring is glorious outside my window as I write this, a strong temptation to follow Mole’s example and get out there and bask in it. Similar siren calls are heard in Robert Fuller Murray’s poem ‘Indolence’ and Keats’s ‘Ode on Indolence’, and drowsy days in the sun also inspire Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’une faune, the sleeping shepherd-boy from Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’, Ray Davies’s Sunny Afternoon and the old Bing Crosby/Louis Armstrong larkabout Gone fishin’. Drugs, on the other hand, account for the torpor of the marriners of Tennyson’s ‘The Lotos-Eaters’ (an extract from which I have paired with a section of Parry’s grand setting of it), while the magic power of the goddess Cybelle to lull the hero Atys to sleep is the scene-setter for Lully’s delicious operatic sommeil.

    Of course, there has to be some moralising: James Thomson rails against the slug-abed in a section from his eighteenth-century poetic hit ‘The Seasons’, and the music tells you that Sloth cannot be a good thing for Anna in Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins. Montaigne, in his Essays, takes a more analytical approach.

    But idleness is the winner in this programme: Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael’s Lazybones show only the mildest disapproval of its subject, and Joseph Crosby Lincoln comes down squarely in favour of the grasshopper who lives for the moment in his retelling of Aesop’s famous fable. We also hear the preference of dustman, natural-born philosopher and self-proclaimed ‘member of the undeserving poor’ Alfred Doolittle for letting things take their course in My Fair Lady. The last word is with Scottish-born poet Robert W. Service, who, echoing Jerome and Mole, declares that while it’s noble enough for others to sweat, ‘pounds and dollars to get’, it’s just as grand ‘doing nothing at all’.

    Producer: Lindsay Kemp

  • Claudie Blakley

    Claudie Blakley

  • Tony Haygarth

    Tony Haygarth


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