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Words and Music: Transformations

1 hour, 15 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 06 November 2011

Jonathan Keeble and Kim Gerard join soprano Stephanie Corley, pianist Kate Thompson and members of Northern Sinfonia to perform a special edition of Words & Music exploring themes of change. Recorded live at the Free Thinking festival at The Sage Gateshead, the programme's transformations include those caused by ageing, cosmetic surgery, medical experiment, divine intervention and technology. With poetry and prose by Mary Shelley, Franz Kafka, Ted Hughes, Roald Dahl and Alan Bennett, and music by Saint-Saens, Strauss, Shostakovich and Schoenberg. Presented by Ian McMillan.

David Papp & Clara Nissen (producers).

Music Played

30 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Ted Hughes

    Tales from Ovid (excerpt), reader Jonathan Keeble

  • Image for Arnold Schoenberg

    Arnold Schoenberg Verklärte nacht (beginning)

    Performer: Northern Sinfonia

  • Mary Shelley

    Frankenstein (excerpt), reader Jonathan Keeble

  • Carl Hiaasen

    Skin Tight (excerpt), reader Kim Gerard

  • Image for Bernard Herrmann

    Bernard Herrmann The Murder (from Psycho)

    Performer: Northern Sinfonia

  • Ted Hughes

    Pygmalion (from Tales from Ovid), reader Jonathan Keeble

  • Image for Richard Strauss

    Richard Strauss Morgen (Op. 27, No.4)

    Performer: Stephanie Corley (soprano), Kate Thompson (piano), Kyra Humphreys (violin)

  • Franz Kafka

    Metamorphosis, reader Kim Gerard

  • Image for Igor Stravinsky

    Igor Stravinsky The Devil's Dance (from The Soldier's Tale)

    Performer: Northern Sinfonia

  • Charles Baudelaire, trans. David Papp

    La chambre double, reader Jonathan Keeble

  • Image for Dmitri Shostakovich

    Dmitri Shostakovich Recitative (from String Quartet No. 11 in F minor)

    Performer: Northern Sinfonia

  • Oliver Sacks

    Awakenings, reader Kim Gerard

  • Image for Jack Yellen & Milton Ager

    Jack Yellen & Milton Ager Big Boy!

    Performer: Stephanie Corley (soprano), Kate Thompson (piano)

  • Roald Dahl

    George’s Marvellous Medicine, readers Jonathan Keeble & Kim Gerard

  • Image for György Ligeti

    György Ligeti Molto vivace. Capriccioso

    Performer: Northern Sinfonia

  • Image for György Ligeti

    György Ligeti Allegro grazioso (from 6 Bagatelles for Wind Quintet)

    Performer: Northern Sinfonia

  • Sylvia Plath

    Mushrooms, reader Jonathan Keeble

  • Image for Johannes Brahms

    Johannes Brahms Adagio mesto (from Horn Trio, Op. 40)

    Performer: Tim Thorpe (horn), Kyra Humphreys (violin), Kate Thompson (piano)

  • Gerard Manley Hopkins

    Binsey Poplars (Felled 1879), reader Kim Gerard

  • Alan Bennett

    Untold Stories (excerpt), reader Jonathan Keeble

  • Image for Traditional English Folk-Song

    Traditional English Folk-Song General Ludd's Triumph

    Performer: Stephanie Corley (soprano), Kate Thompson (piano)

  • Don Paterson

    The Machine, reader Kim Gerard

  • Andrew Crumey

    Mr Mee, reader Jonathan Keeble

  • Image for Francis Poulenc

    Francis Poulenc Finale (Prestissimo - subito tres lent) (from Sextet for Piano & Wind)

    Performer: Northern Sinfonia, Kate Thompson (piano)

  • Simon Gray

    The Smoking Diaries, reader Jonathan Keeble

  • Image for Camille Saint-Saëns

    Camille Saint-Saëns Tortoises (from Carnival of the Animals)

    Performer: Northern Sinfonia, Kate Thompson (piano)

  • Dorothy Nimmo

    Ill-Wishing Him, reader Kim Gerard

  • Image for Claude Debussy

    Claude Debussy Syrinx

    Performer: Juliette Bausor (flute)

  • John Donne

    The Good-Morrow, reader Jonathan Keeble

  • Image for Arnold Schoenberg

    Arnold Schoenberg Verklärte nacht (conclusion)

    Performer: Northern Sinfonia

  • Producer Note

    Change is the ever-present and familiar thread which runs through and entwines all our lives. In this special edition of edition of Words & Music recorded live at The Sage Gateshead, with readers Jonathan Keeble and Kim Gerard, the transformations range from mundane and grisly, to mythical and mycological.

    Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein and Carl Hiaasen’s Rudy Graveline are two doctors involved in altering the human body. But whereas Frankenstein is motivated by the quest to create life, Graveline is an unscrupulous and unqualified plastic surgeon whose final attempt at liposuction goes horribly wrong.

    In contrast, Pygmalion’s experiment to make the inanimate live (he’s carved his ideal woman from ivory) is wholly successful. He has the advantage of divine intervention when Venus answers his fervent prayers in Ted Hughes’s vibrant translation of Ovid.

    Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself a giant beetle in Franz Kafka’s celebrated story. The metamorphosis precipitates changes in his family, who are initially sympathetic but later become aggressively hostile.

    The following three texts trace the effects of drugs on mind and body. Laudanum temporarily transforms Baudelaire’s squalid room into a sensual paradise before wretched reality returns. Next, rejuvenating drugs are taken by two old women. In ‘Awakenings’ the decades roll away for Oliver Sacks’s sleeping-sickness patient Miss R: after taking L-DOPA her past becomes her present as she sings lewd songs from her party-going youth. But George has even more spectacular results when his repulsive grandma takes his homemade pharmaceutical concoction (in Roald Dahl’s ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’) which sends her literally through the roof.

    Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mushrooms’ implacably change their surroundings, while Gerard Manley Hopkins and Alan Bennett mourn the impact of man on familiar and well-loved environments. Mechanical and technological change has both challenged and enriched mankind down the ages. Two hundred years ago it spawned the Luddite movement, when textile workers smashed mechanical looms in a doomed attempt to safeguard their livelihoods. ‘General Ludd’s Triumph’ is a rousing call to action, full of revolutionary rhetoric. The tension between the evils and benefits of technology is the subject of Rilke’s ‘The Machine’ from the 1920s; in the first decade of this century it struck a chord with Don Paterson who made this reworking of the original. New technology in the form of the internet takes Andrew Crumey’s Mr Mee down an unexpected path.

    Simon Gray reflects on ageing with self-deprecating splenetic glee and, finally, a change in relationships: the bitter humour of Dorothy Nimmo’s ‘Ill-Wishing Him’ is the other side of the coin of the all-changing love of John Donne’s ‘The Good-Morrow’

    Music is provided by soprano Stephanie Corley, pianist Kate Thompson and players from Northern Sinfonia. As well as ‘General Ludd’s Triumph’, Stephanie Corley sings a love song by Richard Strauss to reflect the end result of Pygmalion’s carving and also takes the role of Miss R, singing a lewd song from the 1920s, ‘Big Boy!’

    Northern Sinfonia and Kate Thompson play chamber music including the wistful Adagio mesto from the Brahms Horn Trio to herald Gerard Manley Hopkins’s sadness at the destruction of some well-loved trees. The finale of Poulenc’s Sextet for piano and wind begins perkily with Mr Mee’s web surfing but leads to Simon Gray’s honest reflection on old age more with its strangely peaceful ending. The relentless ticking of the clock from a Shostakovich quartet brings the unwelcome return of time and reality to Baudelaire.

    On their own, the wind players get a chance to shine in two virtuosic movements from Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles, the first reflecting Roald Dahl’s anarchic humour; the second, the mysterious atmosphere of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mushrooms’. Saint-Saëns’s ‘Tortoises’ dance a can-can after Simon Gray’s geriatric grumbles and the blood of Rudy Graveline’s unfortunate patient spurts to the rhythm of Bernard Herrmann’s score from ‘Psycho’.

    Our journey of change begins and ends with Schoenberg’s ‘Verklärte Nacht’ – Transfigured Night – which begins with dark foreboding before Dr Frankenstein gets to work and ends in ecstatic radiance after John Donne’s love poem ‘The Good-Morrow’. We hope you enjoy it!

    David Papp & Clara Nissen (producers)


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