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In Hirsute of the Truth

1 hour
First broadcast:
Sunday 17 February 2013

In hirsute of the truth: hair can be a weapon with which to strangle your lover or a net in which to catch your crumbs. During the Victorian period, hair was a highly charged symbol of virility and an object of commerce. Changing hairstyles depict the changing power relationship between women and patriarchy. It has been fetishised, idolised and can be very useful if you're a cellist.

From the stories of Samson and Delilah and Rapunzel we see how hair - for centuries even - was considered a metaphor for virtue or righteousness: an idea especially evinced in the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot. Deryn Rees-Jones’s haunting poem ‘My Father’s Hair’ describes how her father’s identity developed during his life and how, at his life’s end, the ‘long white wings’ come to rest on the pillow of his sick bed.

Evil and violence pursue the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. First told in a Penny Dreadful of the 1840s, the story of Sweeney Todd inspired Stephen Sondheim’s Opera of the same name. It follows a long history of compositions which conjure images of death and destruction: from Robert Browning’s sinister ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ to Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Medusa’.

Producer: Gavin Heard

Music Played

33 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • WB Yeats

    For Ann Gregory, Oliver Dimsdale

  • Image for Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman

    Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (It's) Hairspray

    Performer: James Marsden

    DECCA 4759348

  • Image for Leroy Anderson

    Leroy Anderson Overture to Goldilocks

    Performer: BBC Concert Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin

    NAXOS 8559382

  • Brother Grimm translated by Philip Pullman

    Rapunzel, Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • Alexander Pope

    The Rape of the Locke, Oliver Dimsdale

  • Image for Camille Saint-Saëns

    Camille Saint-Saëns Samson et Dalila

    Performer: Rita Gorr, Jon Vickers, René Duclos, Orchestre du Théâtre National de l’Opéra de Paris

    EMI Classics CDM 7639352

  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning

    I never gave a lock of hair away, Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • Image for Claude Debussy

    Claude Debussy The Girl with the Flaxen Hair

    Performer: Nigel Kennedy, English Chamber Orchestra

    EMI Classics 5574112

  • James Tolan

    The Forest of my Hair, Oliver Dimsdale

  • Image for David Crosby

    David Crosby Almost Cut My Hair

    Performer: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

    Atlantic 7567826492

  • Deryn Rees-Jones

    My Father’s Hair, Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • Image for Hilary Hahn & Volker Bertelmann

    Hilary Hahn & Volker Bertelmann Krakow

    Performer: Hilary Hahn, Volker Bertelmann

    DG 4790303

  • Anonymous

    The String of Pearls, Oliver Dimsdale

  • Image for Stephen Sondheim

    Stephen Sondheim The Ballad of Sweeney Todd

    Performer: Patti LuPone, Michael Cerveris

    Nonesuch, 7559799462

  • Robert Browning

    Porphyria’s Lover, Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • Image for Frédéric Chopin

    Frédéric Chopin Waltz No.3 in A minor Op.34 No.2

    Performer: Stephen Kovacevich

    EMI 5099963166620

  • Image for Frédéric Chopin

    Frédéric Chopin Waltz No.3 in A minor Op.34 No.2

    Performer: Stephen Kovacevich

    EMI 5099963166620

  • Image for Blondie

    Blondie Atomic

    Performer: Blondie

    Chrysalis CDP 3212252

  • William Shakespeare

    Sonnet 103, Oliver Dimsdale

  • Carol Ann Duffy

    Medusa, Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • Image for Alexander von Zemlinsky

    Alexander von Zemlinsky Die Seejungfrau

    Performer: Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard

    Chandos CHAN9601

  • Algernon Charles Swinburne

    Rondel, Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • Image for Ludwig van Beethoven

    Ludwig van Beethoven Sonate F-Durop.5, Nr.1

    Performer: András Schiff, Miklós Perényi

    ECM New Series 1819/20 472 4012

  • Richard Lovelace

    Song to Amarantha, that she would Dishevel her Hair, Oliver Dimsdale

  • Image for William Jackson

    William Jackson Time has not thinn'd my flowing hair

    Performer: Emma Kirkby, Rufus Müller, Timothy Roberts, Frances Kelly

    Hyperion CDA66497

  • Carl Sandburg

    Women Washing their Hair, Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • Image for Johann Sebastian Bach

    Johann Sebastian Bach Brandenburg Concerto No.6

    Performer: Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr

    Harmonia Mundi 807461.62

  • Roald Dahl

    The Twits, Oliver Dimsdale

  • Image for The Tiger Lillies

    The Tiger Lillies Shockheaded Peter

    Performer: The Tiger Lilies

    NVC Arts/Warner Music

  • George Eliot

    Middlemarch, Oliver Dimsdale

  • Image for Claude Debussy

    Claude Debussy Le Chevelure

    Performer: Véronique Gens, Roger Vignoles

    Virgin Classics 72

  • Elizabeth Gaskell

    Ruth, Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • Image for Franz Schubert

    Franz Schubert Piano Quintet in A major

    Performer: Andras Schiff, Members of the Hagen Quartet

    DECCA 411 975-2

  • Oliver Dimsdale

    Oliver Dimsdale

  • Sylvestra le Touzel

    Sylvestra le Touzel


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