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Beyond Good and Evil

1 hour
First broadcast:
Sunday 19 August 2012

Words and Music on the theme of Evil. Readings by Ann Mitchell and Andrew Wincott. With texts from the Bible, Beowulf and Blake. With Music by Berg, Britten and Black Sabbath.

A whirlwind tour through the dark alleys of Evil: from the Garden of Eden in Genesis and Milton's Paradise Lost, to the vampires and dominatrices of Baudelaire and Swinburne, via the black magic of Aleister Crowley and Marlowe, to the apocalyptic visions of Blake and Dante, taking in the Evil lurking in the German forest to the cloven hoof on the carpet where Evil is located by Auden in the everyday world, "unspectacular and always human".

Producer Clive Portbury.

Music Played

28 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for Joseph Haydn

    Joseph Haydn "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth" from The Creation

    Performer: Neal Davies (bass), Gabrieli Consort and Players, Paul McCreesh

    Archiv 477 7361

  • Image for Giuseppe Tartini

    Giuseppe Tartini Devils Trill Sonata (last movement)

    Performer: Andrew Manze (violin)

    Harmonia Mundi 907213

  • Bible (King James)

    Genesis/Chapter 3 vs 1-5, reader Ann Mitchell

  • John Milton

    Paradise Lost, Book 9 vs 679-709, reader Andrew Wincott

  • Bible (King James)

    Genesis/Chapter 3 vs 6-7, reader Ann Mitchell

  • Image for Alban Berg

    Alban Berg Lulu Suite (Adagio)

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

    EMI 7 49857 2

  • Baudelaire (trans. Aggeler)

    Les Fleurs du Mal (excerpt), reader Andrew Wincott

  • Swinburne

    Excerpt from Dolores (Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs), reader Andrew Wincott

  • Image for Richard Strauss

    Richard Strauss "Ich habe keine guten Naechte" from Elektra

    Performer: Waltraud Meier (Klytaemnestra – mezzo), Deborah Polaski (Elektra – soprano), Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim (conductor)

    Warner Classics 2564 67701-3

  • Image for Black Sabbath

    Black Sabbath Black Sabbath

    Composer: Black Sabbath

    Sanctuary SMEDD325

  • Aleister Crowley

    Hymn to Lucifer, reader Ann Mitchell

  • Christopher Marlowe

    Faustus’s final speech from Dr Faustus, reader Andrew Wincott

  • Image for Léon Boëllmann

    Léon Boëllmann Suite gothique

    Performer: Peter Hurford (organ)

    Decca 421 296-2

  • Image for George Crumb

    George Crumb Devil-music and Danse Macabre from "Black Angels"

    Performer: Kronos Quartet

    Elektra Nonesuch 7559-79242-2

  • William Blake

    The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (extract), reader Andrew Wincott

  • Image for Giuseppe Verdi

    Giuseppe Verdi Tuba mirum from his Requiem

    Performer: Chorus and Orchestra of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano (conductor)

    EMI 6 98936 2

  • Dante (trans H F Cary)

    Inferno Canto 6 (extract), reader Andrew Wincott

  • Image for Franz Liszt

    Franz Liszt Dante Sonata (extract)

    Performer: Daniel Barenboim (piano)

    Teldec 9031-77340-2

  • Brothers Grimm (trans. Edgar Taylor and Marian Edwardes)

    Hansel and Gretel (extract), reader Ann Mitchell

  • Image for Richard Wagner

    Richard Wagner Prelude to Act 2 of Siegfried

    Performer: Vienna Philharmonic, Georg Solti (conductor)

    Decca 414 110-2

  • Anon. (trans. F. B. Grummere)

    Beowulf (extract), reader Andrew Wincott

  • Shakespeare

    Richard III – opening speech, reader Andrew Wincott

  • Image for John Dowland

    John Dowland Mellancoly Galliard

    Performer: Paul O’Dette (lute)

    Harmonia Mundi 907160

  • Image for Judson/Taylor

    Judson/Taylor I want to be evil

    Performer: Earth Kitt (vocal)

    MCA 19120

  • Augustine (trans. Pusey)

    Confessions Chapter 2 (extract), reader Ann Mitchell

  • Image for Richard Wagner

    Richard Wagner Prelude to Act 2 of Parsifal

    Performer: Vienna Philharmonic, Georg Solti (conductor)

    Decca 417 143-2

  • Image for Benjamin Britten

    Benjamin Britten O rose thou art sick from "The Serenade for tenor, horn and strings"

    Performer: Peter Pears (tenor), Barry Tuckwell (horn), English Chamber Orchestra, Benjamin Britten (conductor)

    Decca 4363952

  • W. H. Auden

    “Herman Melville” (extract), reader Andrew Wincott

  • Producer's Note

    “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” With these words the serpent tempts Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, thereby bringing Evil into the world. The Adam and Eve story in Genesis, like all great myths, can be read in several ways, and is powerful precisely because of its ambiguity. It certainly suggests that Evil is not only connected with desire but also in some way with man’s striving for knowledge – possibly because acquisition of knowledge can lead us away from the awareness of our true essence and Being.

    The excerpt from Haydn’s Creation gives the back story, with God creating light in a blaze of C major. Enter the wily serpent. As he tempts Eve, the excerpt from Tartini’s ‘Devil’s Trill Sonata’ gives us a clue as to the real identity of this talking snake.

    In Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ the snake is a master politician and orator and his subtle and sinuous reasoning leads Eve imperceptibly into temptation and catastrophe.

    The story of the Fall has often led to a mistaken conflation of sex, particularly female sexuality, with Evil.

    In Alban Berg’s ‘Lulu’, the anti-heroine is an immoral temptress explicitly related to the biblical Eve.

    Baudelaire and Swinburne give contrasting portraits of two femmes fatales, vampire and dominatrix, evil in their cold and rapacious lust.

    Influenced by the ideas of Freud, Strauss’s librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal saw evil in terms of mental health. In the opera, the confrontation between Klytemnestra and her daughter Elektra is a psychological study of neurosis. Klytemnestra’s diseased mind is what makes her evil. And this is represented by increasingly chromatic harmonies which Strauss contrasts with more “healthy” tonal music elsewhere in the score. As she describes her nightmare, the tuba slithers around in the bass representing the repressed fears stalking her subconscious.

    Male evil is often seen in terms of black magic and the occult. The Black Sabbath track with its diabolic tritones and thunder effects verges on camp. But it matches Aleister Crowley’s over-the-top ‘Hymn to Lucifer’ which leads into Faust’s final encounter with Lucifer in Marlowe’s ‘Dr Faustus’, as Faustus is dragged down to hell. The Toccata from Boellmann’s suite continues the gothic mood.

    The Devil-music from George Crumb’s ‘Black Angels’ abruptly changes gear for Blake’s apocalyptic ‘Marriage of Heaven and Hell’. This segues into Verdi’s blazing trumpets announcing a vision of Hell which is taken up in an extract from Dante’s ‘Inferno’. (Liszt’s ‘Dante Sonata’ again starts with infernal tritones – the traditional sign of the Devil in Western music.)

    The forest as a place of mystery and evil was one of the tropes of the German imagination. It features in many of the folk tales from the Brothers Grimm, and further back in the Anglo-Saxon epic ‘Beowulf’. And no one captured that sense of malevolence better than Wagner whose prelude to the second Act of ‘Siegfried’ conjures up the dark forest where the evil dragon lives (tritones again).

    The final section looks at Evil as a matter of personal morality; something encountered everyday behind the mask of civilisation. The urbane anti-hero of Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’, plots and counterfeits behind the scenes. His is the cloven hoof on the carpet.

    St Augustine’s self-lacerating account of his lustful youth is again a private matter of free-will.

    I make no apology for a second bit of Wagner, for whom Evil was a specialist subject. The extract from ‘Parsifal’ describes the tortured cravings of the magician Klingsor who has castrated himself in a desperate bid to get control over his evil and insatiable desires.

    The programme ends with another master of the subject. Benjamin Britten knew that Evil is at its most evil when it sets out to destroy goodness and innocence, which is the theme of Blake’s ‘O Rose thou art sick’ and also Auden’s meditation on the mundane nature of Evil.

    Clive Portbury (producer)


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