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Playing: String Quintet No.2 in G major (Op.111) by Johannes Brahms
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First broadcast:
Sunday 10 February 2013

A sequence of poetry, prose and music on the theme of concealment and the invisible.
Alex Jennings and Maxine Peake read poems and prose by Lewis Carroll, Edward Thomas and John Clare about secrets, lost things and encrypted meaning. There's music by Elgar, Bartok, Britten and Poulenc.

Producer: Natalie Steed.





  • Producer's Note

    This edition of Words and Music is about the invisible, the unseen and the secret.

    We begin with spies and a classic theme from John Barry. There’s a secret Morse Code rendition of a poem and Hannah Weiner’s extraordinary construction from the International Code of Signals for the Use of All Nations.

    Emily Dickinson’s poem on the diminishing of mystery through over examination is teamed with John Tavener’s The Hidden Treasure

    Music has often been used to carry secret meanings: whether as the means to crack a code or reference to a secret love. Elgar’s Enigma Variations have been the subject of speculation and the ciphered letter the composer sent to Miss Dora Penney, the “Dorabella” of this variation, remains unsolved whilst Schumann described his Carnaval as a kind of game of deciphering.

    Oedipus is one of the first great unravellers of riddles in literary history but even he may have found the Mad Hatter’s offering something of a test: why is a raven like a writing desk?

    The poems, Breath by Don Paterson and Ultrasound by Kathleen Jamie deal with hidden mysteries of the body whilst Actaeon suffers agonies for an inadvertent glimpse of the divine Diana in her private glade.

    Edward Thomas and Arnold Bax herald the moment of spring’s reveal and we move to things hidden in the sea and the earth: the great Godzilla and Tennyson’s Kraken; Debussy’s sunken Cathedral and its briny toll; U A Fanthorpe’s drowned and razed villages whose traces are written into the landscape and the imagined and animated voices of the long buried.

    Secret love and longing is explored in the next section whether John Clare’s hidden love, Ruth Pitter’s ardent self- protection, the revelation of Pope Joan, or the ache for transformation.

    We finish with Auden’s plangent dive into the gossip and whispers and Peggy Lee’s glorious and gladdening shrugging off of disappointment at the discovery of life’s surface holding few hidden depths.

    Producer: Natalie Steed

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Dylan Thomas season

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