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The Rhyming and the Chiming

Words and music on the theme of bells, including poetry by Edgar Allan Poe and a variety of music. Read by Sylvestra Le Touzel and David Troughton.

Words and Music on the theme of bells. Readers Sylvestra Le Touzel and David Troughton.

This is the season for bells, joyful Christmas bells and clamorous New Year peals - and they will feature in this edition of the programme. But there will also be rhyming and chiming from other seasons of life, taking Edgar Allan Poe's onomatopoeic poem as its centrepiece. There are bells from childhood, from marriage, from the ordinary round of life as nostalgically remembered in both city and countryside by Betjeman. The sinister side of the sound of bells is brought to life by Dickens in his atmospheric story "The Chimes", and in the famous scene from "The Nine Tailors" by Dorothy L. Sayers in which Lord Peter Wimsey finds himself in the belltower as the cacophony carries on about him. There are alarums from the battlefield and the gallows humour of the bells of hell going ting-a-ling-a-ling... But this is Christmas and so Longfellow and Tennyson's "Wild Bells" will see us out on a note of celebration and hope for the future.

Music from Liszt, Henze, Loesser, Philip Feeney, Grieg and Elizabeth Poston among others.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Christmas Day 2014 16:30

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:00

    Philip Feeney

    Prelude from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"

    Performer: Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra Performer: John Pryce Jones (conductor)

    • Black Box BBP1009 Tr 1.
  • Victor Hugo, trans. Isabel F. Hapgood

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame (excerpt), reader Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • 00:02

    Philip Feeney

    Carillon – Quasimodo's Solo from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"

    Performer: Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra Performer: John Pryce Jones (conductor)

    • Black Box BBP1009 Tr 19.
  • John Betjeman

    Monody on the Death of Aldersgate Street Station, reader David Troughton

  • 00:05

    Elizabeth Poston

    The Bellman's Song (An English Day-Book)

    Performer: National Youth Choir of Scotland, Girls Choir Performer: Claire Jones (harp) Performer: Christopher Bell (conductor)

    • Signum SIGCD228 Tr 13.
  • 00:06

    Samuel Sebastian Wesley

    Holsworthy Church Bells

    Performer: James McVinnie (organ)

    • Naxos 8.570410 Tr 9.
  • Edgar Allen Poe

    The Bells, Part I, reader Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • 00:12

    Philip Lane

    Sleighbell Serenade from "Three Christmas Pictures"

    Performer: Royal Scottish National Orchestra Performer: Christopher Bell (conductor)

    • Signum SIGCD202 Tr 14.
  • 00:15

    Franz Liszt

    La Campanella from "Etudes d'execution transcendante d'apres Paganini"

    Performer: Jorge Bolet (piano)

    • Philips 456 814-2 CD1 Tr 8.
  • Edgar Allan Poe

    The Bells, Part II, reader Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • 00:21

    The Diamonds

    Church Bells May Ring

    • Mercury 532734 Tr 2.
  • 00:23

    Edvard Grieg

    Bellringing from Lyric Pieces op 54 no 6

    Performer: Mikhail Pletnev (piano)

    • DG 459 671-2 Tr 12.
  • 00:26

    George Butterworth

    Bredon Hill (A Shropshire Lad)

    Performer: James Gilchrist (tenor) Performer: Fitzwilliam String Quartet Performer: Anna Tilbrook (piano)

    • Linn CKD 296 Tr 5.
  • John Betjeman

    Bristol, reader David Troughton

  • Christopher John Brennan

    Sweet Silence after Bells, reader Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • 00:35

    Henry Purcell

    The Bell Anthem

    Performer: James Bowman (countertenor) Performer: Charles Daniels (tenor) Performer: Michael George (bass) Performer: Choir of New College, Oxford Performer: Choir of the King’s Consort Performer: Robert King (director)

    • Hyperion KING 2 Tr 9.
  • John Bunyan

    Upon a Ring of Bells (excerpt), reader David Troughton

  • 00:45

    Frank Loesser

    If I were a bell from "Guys and Dolls"

    Performer: Isabel Bigley Performer: Original Broadway Cast recording Performer: Irving Actman (conductor)

    • Sanctuary CDAJA5498 Tr 7.
  • 00:48

    Anton Webern

    Five Pieces Op. 10, No. 1 "Sehr ruhig und zart"

    Performer: Ulster Orchestra Performer: Takuo Yuasa (conductor)

    • Naxos 8.554841 Tr 13.
  • Dorothy L Sayers

    The Nine Tailors (excerpt), reader David Troughton

  • 00:50

    Hans Werner Henze

    Der Erlkönig

    Performer: Bamberg Symphony Orchestra Performer: Jonathan Nott (conductor)

    • Tudor 7131 Tr 5.
  • Charles Dickens

    The Chimes (excerpt), reader Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • Anne Sexton

    Ringing the Bells, reader Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • 00:57

    Alfred Schnittke

    Symphony No. 1- Opening

    Performer: Russian State Symphony Orchestra Performer: Gennady Rozhdestvensky (conductor)

    • CHAN 9417 Tr 1.
  • Edgar Allan Poe

    The Bells, part III, reader David Troughton

  • Edgar Allan Poe

    The Bells, part IV, reader David Troughton

  • St Sepulchre

    ringing of the Execution Bell

  • 01:01

    Bob Dylan

    Ring them Bells

    Performer: Barb Jungr

    • LINN AKD 187 Tr 4.
  • Siegfried Sassoon

    Joy Bells, reader Sylvestra Le Touzel

  • 01:05

    T.V. Carpio

    The Bells of Hell from "Oh what a lovely war"

    • TER 1043 Tr 2 (Excerpt).
  • 01:05

    Franz Liszt

    Carillon (from Christmas Tree)

    Performer: Rhondda Gillespie (piano)

    • CHAN 6629 Tr 6.
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    I heard the Bells on Christmas Day, reader David Troughton

  • 01:09

    John Foulds - Bells at Coblentz from 'Holiday Sketches', Op. 16

    Performer: BBC Concert Orchestra Performer: Ronald Corp (conductor)

  • Alfred Lord Tennyson

    Ring out, Wild Bells, reader Sylvestra Le Touzel

Producer Note

The opening scene is Paris first thing in the morning, described in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, with the awakening of a myriad church towers, moving on to Betjeman’s elegiac poem on the bells and trains of the City of London, and nostalgia for both days of steam and days of faith. S. S. Wesley’s “Holsworthy Church Bells” plays the peaceful tune of  the carillon belonging to this Devon church and then we are off into Poe’s epic poem “The Bells” which  starts merrily enough - with sleigh bells and wedding bells.

Leaving Poe aside for a moment, Grieg’s gentle Lyric Piece “Bell-ringing” leads to Vaughan Williams’ setting of A. E. Housman’s “Bredon Hill”, a song of tragic lost love, symbolised by bells.  More gentle nostalgia for the distant sound of ringing from Betjeman in “Bristol”  leading to the sense of liquid crystal in the air after the bells cease – “Sweet Silence after bells”.

Purcell’s anthem “Rejoice in the Lord Always” is nicknamed the “Bell Anthem” from its instrumental effect of descending peals, after which John Bunyan is encountered  comparing himself to a ring of bells, hoping that “naughty boys” will not play havoc with his attempts to keep spiritual harmony. He would surely NOT have approved of the sentiments of “mission doll” Sergeant Sarah Brown after her heady encounter with Sky Masterson (“If I were a bell”).

An ominous little scene change from Webern ushers in Lord Peter Wimsey’s painful close encounter with the bells in the ringing chamber – it was the bells whodunnit in that story, and Henze’s take on Schubert’s Erl King, the frightening fairy sprite, makes a fitting background to Dicken’s personification of the bells as sinister elfin creatures in his story “The Chimes”. The idea is that the bells should do good, not harm, in Anne Sexton’s group therapy scene “Ringing the Bells”, but it is doomed to well-intentioned failure. Again the tension rises with the opening of Schnittke’s first symphony where a percussionist plays merry hell with  bells, while the rest of the orchestra joins the melee  – a fitting prelude to the chaotic and frightening world of the second half of Poe’s poem, the finality of the tolling bell and Sassoon’s ironic war poem.

But this is Christmas and it would not do to end there – Longfellow and Tennyson look at the mess we’re in but find reasons to hope and to celebrate, set here against the joyful whirling pealing of the “Bells at Coblentz”.

Producer: Elizabeth Funning

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