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The Sticking Place

The Sticking Place: words and music exploring risk and failure; with poems by Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton and TS Eliot.

When Macbeth says to Lady Macbeth, "If we should fail", she responds "We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking place and we'll not fail."

This edition is about daring to take the plunge, doing and building the impossible, Icarus's flight, Byron's swim, the Tower of Babel, the fear of failure and the loss of it all. Poems by Samuel Beckett, Tennyson and Philip Larkin are read by Sylvestra Le Touzel and Peter Marinker. Music includes work by Leos Janacek, Frederick Delius, Ivor Gurney and Igor Stravinsky.

Release date:

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 7 Aug 2016 18:15

Producer’s Note: The Sticking Place

This edition of Words and Music takes us to the edge and asks us to jump off:  it’s about daring to take risks and flying; the determination to reach impossible heights and defeat crushing odds; to pit human ingenuity, strength and insane determination against nature, God and good sense.


It is also about failure.


We begin with Britten’s piece for Phaeton’s daring and disastrous attempt to drive the chariot of the sun and the unrealised dreams of Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines and Anne Sexton’s treatment of the Icarus myth where the boy’s foolish but splendid soaring into the sun is contrasted with his sensible father’s earthly trudge away from the scene.


The dizzying achievement of the almost impossible is celebrated in  Rita Streich’s famous ‘Queen of the Night’s’ aria from Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ whilst the bold daring of a more domestic kind is conjured by William Carlos Williams naked and marvellous ‘Danse Russe’ placed with John Adams “alleged” dance piece for dances yet to be imagined.


Submitting to the pleasure of the fall, irrespective of the potential smash to earth, is echoed in Orlando Gough’s beautiful, insistent swoon: ‘Falling’ set, here, with George Herbert’s unsuccessful resistance of spiritual Love, alongside Byron’s boastful account of his swimming the Hellespont and Liszt’s account of Leander’s swim for love of Hero that Byron replayed for glory.


Emily Dickinson’s observation of the industry of the spider recalls the story of Robert Bruce’s inspiration to renewed determination after witnessing a spider’s efforts to spin a web across a cave and contrasts with the energetic but deluded efforts of Strauss’ ‘Don Quixote.’


Two grand schemes for buildings, Gaudi’s Barcelona Cathedral La Sagrada Família and the Tower of Babel, here receive less than favourable reviews from the critics George Orwell and God and there’s music from Werner Herzog’s film, ‘Fitzcarraldo’, about an extraordinary project to transport a steamship over a hill to reach a rubber plantation.


Another grand plan gone awry was S A Andree’s doomed attempt to be the first to cross the Arctic in a hydrogen balloon in 1897. Buoyed by the hot air of international publicity and subscriptions, he and his two companions attempted an arctic flight which ended after only 2 days. The balloonists survived for several weeks but their remains, diaries and photographs were discovered more than thirty years later.


And then, failure and the tender beauty of its description and recognition by Philip Larkin, TS Eliot’s Prufrock and John Clare, with a brief rally via Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’, whose purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset.


At the end there is the final unravelling as words themselves fail in Beckett’s ‘What is the Word’ and their power is reasserted in Gorecki’s ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’, inspired by the words of a young woman written on the walls of a Gestapo prison cell in Poland, and a hymn to courage in the face of darkest despair.


Natalie Steed