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1 hour, 30 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 27 January 2013

Meera Syal and Harry Hadden-Paton are the readers in this edition of Words and Music on the theme of Metamorphosis. How does it feel to be turned into someone or something else? The mischief and mayhem ensuing from unexpected transformation is explored through the words of Ovid, Shakespeare, Kafka, Roald Dahl and Jo Shapcott and the music of Britten, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, Handel and Lerner and Loewe.

Producer: Philippa Ritchie

First broadcast in January 2013.

Music Played

36 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Metamorphosis

    Franz Kafka translated by Michael Hoffman (read by Harry Hadden-Paton)

  • Image for Philip Glass

    Philip Glass Metamorphosis Four

    Performer: Philip Glass, solo piano

    SONY SBK64133

  • Thetis

    Carol Anne Duffy (read by Meera Syal)

  • Image for Philip Glass

    Philip Glass Metamorphosis Four

    Performer: Philip Glass, solo piano

    SONY SBK64133

  • Actaeon

    Seamus Heaney (read by Harry Hadden-Paton)

  • Image for Claude Debussy

    Claude Debussy Syrinx

    Performer: Roger Bourdin, flute

    PHILIPS 4426552

  • The Tiger’s Bride

    Angela Carter (read by Meera Syal)

  • Image for Igor Stravinsky

    Igor Stravinsky The Firebird (Berceuse)

    Performer: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle

    EMI CLASSICS 5855382

  • Mutability

    Percy Bysshe Shelley (read by Harry Hadden-Paton)

  • Image for [traditional]

    [traditional] Full Fathom Five (William Shakespeare, from The Tempest)

    Performer: Alfred Deller

    EMI CDH 5655012

  • Image for Jerry Herman (lyrics and music)

    Jerry Herman (lyrics and music) A Little More Mascara (from La Cage Aux Folles)

    Performer: Douglas Hodge


  • George’s Marvellous medicine

    Roald Dahl (read by Meera Syal)

  • Image for Carl Maria von Weber

    Carl Maria von Weber Rondo from Piano Sonata No.1 in C major, Op. 24 "Perpetuum Mobile"

    Performer: Jean Martin

    ARION ARN268240

  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

    Robert Louis Stevenson (read by Harry Hadden-Paton)

  • Image for Alexander Goehr

    Alexander Goehr Metamorphosis/Dance Op. 36

    Performer: The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by David Atherton


  • Thetis

    Jo Shapcott (read by Meera Syal)

  • Image for Igor Stravinsky

    Igor Stravinsky Petrouchka (Petrouchka's Room) (from Diaghilev and The Golden Age Of The Ballets Russes 19


  • The Frog Who Dreamed She Was An Opera Singer

    Jackie Kay (read by Meera Syal)

  • Image for George Frideric Handel

    George Frideric Handel Acis and Galatea (Be thou immortal & Heart, the seat of soft delight)

    Performer: Sophie Daneman (soprano), Les Arts Florissants, conducted by William Christie

    ERATO 3984 255052

  • Transformations

    Thomas Hardy (read by Harry Hadden-Paton)

  • Image for György Ligeti

    György Ligeti Chamber Concerto

    Performer: London Sinfonietta, conducted by David Atherton

    DECCA 4256232

  • Image for Alexander Nikolayevich Tcherepnin

    Alexander Nikolayevich Tcherepnin Narcisse (Narcissus is transformed into a flower) (from Diaghilev and The Golden Age Of Th

    Performer: The Hague Chamber Choir, Residentie Orchestra The Hague, conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky


  • Translated by Ted Hughes Tales From Ovid (Echo and Narcissus)

    Ovid (read by Meera Syal and Harry Hadden-Paton)

  • Image for Antonio Vivaldi

    Antonio Vivaldi A Major Violin Concerto ("Echo Concerto")

    Performer: Il Giardino Armonica, conducted by Giovanni Antonini, Enrico Onofri and Marco Bianchi (violins)

    TELDEC 4509945522

  • Image for Frederick Loewe

    Frederick Loewe The Rain in Spain (from My Fair Lady)

    Performer: Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison


  • Image for Felix Mendelssohn

    Felix Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night's Dream, Overture and Incidental Music

    Performer: Staatskapelle Berlin Orchestra, conducted by Gunther Herbig

    Berlin Classics B000GEIOL2

  • Image for Benjamin Britten

    Benjamin Britten A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Performer: Alfred Deller as Oberonfathom

    LONDON 4256632

  • Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream

    William Shakespeare (read by Meera Syal)

  • Image for Benjamin Britten

    Benjamin Britten A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Performer: Owen Brannigan as Bottom, Norman Lumsden as Peter Quince, London Symphony Orchestra

    LONDON 4256632

  • Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream

    William Shakespeare (read by Meera Syal)

  • Image for Benjamin Britten

    Benjamin Britten A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Performer: Elizabeth Harwood as Tytania, London Symphony Orchestra

    LONDON 4256632

  • Image for Benjamin Britten

    Benjamin Britten A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Performer: Four solo Fairies, London Symphony Orchestra

    LONDON 4256632

  • Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream

    William Shakespeare (read by Harry Hadden-Paton)

  • Image for Felix Mendelssohn

    Felix Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night's Dream (Bergomask/Dance of the Clowns)

    Performer: Staatskapelle Berlin Orchestra, conducted by Gunther Herbig

    Berlin Classics B000GEIOL2

  • Harmonia and Cadmus

    Matthew Arnold (read by Harry Hadden-Paton)

  • Image for Igor Stravinsky

    Igor Stravinsky The Firebird (Disparition du Palais)

    Performer: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle

    EMI CLASSICS 5855382






  • Producer's Note

    Metamorphosis has been in the air recently. The National Gallery’s exhibition, Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, featured 3 Titian paintings inspired by Ovid’s story of Diana and Actaeon. Hapless Actaeon was turned into a stag by an angry Diana and then hunted by his own hounds and torn to pieces. And all because he’d accidentally stumbled on the goddess bathing naked in a woodland pool.

    Linked to the National Gallery’s exhibition, The Royal Ballet mounted 3 new ballets under the title of Metamorphosis inspired by the Titian paintings. And, coincidentally, Arthur Pita’s latest piece of dance theatre was also on the subject of Metamorphosis, but this time Kafka’s classic story was the inspiration.

    Seeing the Titian exhibition and going to the related ballets, I started to wonder how it must feel to be turned into a beetle or a stag or even a river with no warning and I thought it would be interesting to see how writers and musicians have explored the experience of transformation.

    I wanted to use actors who would convey the sense of mischief and humour which I felt was often present in the texts as well as the strangeness and the terror. Recently I saw Meera Syal play Beatrice in the RSC’s Indian-set production of Much Ado About Nothing, and in addition to the infectious humour of her performance, I was struck by her masterful handling of the Shakespeare and so I asked if she might be interested in trying her hand at reading some poetry on Radio 3, including some more Shakespeare. I was thrilled when she agreed. Harry Hadden-Paton I knew to be a sensitive and experienced poetry reader. Then last year I saw him play Young Marlow in the National Theatre’s production of She Stoops To Conquer, where he revealed a delicious talent for comedy and I decided he would be perfect casting for Metamorphosis.

    Harry’s reading of the opening of Kafka’s classic novella starts the programme accompanied by an extract from the fourth movement of Philip Glass’s piano work, Metamorphosis – a piece which Glass adapted from music he wrote for a theatrical production of Kafka’s story.

    Both Carol Ann Duffy and Jo Shapcott have written poems inspired by the story of Thetis and I have included both. Thetis is a Greek Nereid , or sea-nymph, with shape-shifting powers. Sworn to chastity, she resisted the forceful advances of the mortal King Peleus, but he’d been taught by Proteus how to overcome her by binding her and holding on tightly whatever shape she took and as a result of the forced union she gave birth to Achilles. Both poems vividly portray Thetis’s delight in her powers of metamorphosis before she is caught and ravished.

    Seamus Heaney’s poem Actaeon was written in response to the 3 Titian paintings featured in the National Gallery exhibition: Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon and Diana and Callisto. Titian, incidentally, referred to his own paintings as visual poetry or ‘poesie’.

    Debussy’s work Syrinx (La Flute De Pan) was inspired by the myth of a river-nymph (Syrinx) sworn to chastity and pursued by the lustful Pan. She fled to the river and pleaded with the water deities for help whereupon they changed her into a water reed. Sad to lose his love, Pan cut the reed into pieces and created his Pan Pipes out of her. Debussy’s piece is believed to be the first unaccompanied flute solo of the 20th century.

    It has to be said, the majority of metamorphic tales involve male gods enforcing unwanted forms upon helpless females but I have attempted to redress the balance with an extract from Angela Carter’s magical realist story The Tiger’s Bride. Returning to tales of female entrapment, I have included two extracts from The Firebird, using its exquisite finale to end the programme. The Firebird ballet was Stravinsky’s first work for Diaghilev. Premiered in 1910, it made him famous. It is the tale of Prince Ivan who falls in love with the magical, glowing Firebird who has been bewitched by the sorcerer Kastchei , together with 13 princesses. When Ivan tries to rescue them, Kastchei attempts to turn him into stone, but the magical feather the Firebird has given Ivan helps him destroy the sorcerer and free the maidens.

    Stravinsky had originally approached the composer Nikolai Tcherepnin to compose The Firebird. He started work on it, but it seems the project came to nothing. Diaghilev did, however, mount the ballet Narcisse in 1911, using music by Tcherepnin and design by Bakst. It was based on Ovid’s story of Echo and her unrequited love for Narcissus who is eventually turned into a flower. The legendary Tamara Karsavina, who created the role of The Firebird also starred in this ballet. Meera and Harry take the parts of Echo and Narcissus in Ted Hughes’s adaptation of Ovid’s story.

    Ovid was Shakespeare’s favourite poet and his influence can be seen throughout his plays but perhaps most strongly in a A Midsummer Night’s Dream . I have chosen extracts which tell the story of Bottom being transformed into an ass, with Meera giving a spirited reading of Puck and Harry doubling as Oberon and Bottom. In addition I have used Mendelssohn’s magical incidental music to the play and Benjamin Britten’s opera version.

    Perhaps you can guess why I have included Julie Andrews singing The Rain in Spain from My Fair Lady? Lerner and Loewe’s musical was, of course, adapted from Shaw’s play Pygmalion which was in turn inspired by Ovid’s tale of the sculptor who fell in love with his own statue. I also thought Jerry Herman’s song A Little More Mascara from his musical La Cage Aux Folles deserved to be included, telling of a drag queen’s nightly transformation from a homely middle aged-man into his dazzling alter ego ‘Zaza’.

    Everything in nature is subject to change and decay but that decay also leads to rebirth and this eternal mutability is explored in poems by Shelley and Hardy and beautifully ecapsulated in Ariel’s song ‘Full Fathom Five’ from The Tempest, here sung hauntingly by Alfred Deller.

    Must being changed always be a bad thing? Not in the case of Cadmus and his queen who were turned into a couple of snakes and according to Matthew Arnold, are enjoying a happy retirement on the Adriatic coast after the vicissitudes of their former life and that, I thought, was a good place to end this exploration of metamorphosis.

    Producer: Philippa Ritchie


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