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Texts and music related to epiphany, with readings by Joanna David and Bertie Carvel. Including TS Eliot, Carol Ann Duffy and Wole Soyinka, plus Bach, Menotti, Lennox Berkeley.

In the Christian tradition, The Epiphany marked one of the first manifestations of God to mankind - to the gentiles - when the Magi or Wise Men were presented to the new-born Christ. It was a moment of revelation, of insight and understanding, as Christ's divinity was revealed.

Richard Strauss's Die heiligen drei Könige opens this edition of Words and Music with its mournful and subdued strings. Introducing the religious theme, the piece describes the epic and starlit voyage of the three Magi as they sought the Christ child.

George Mackay Brown's Epiphany Poem, read by Joanna David, describes the horror of this journey: the Magi 'Suffered salt, snow, skulls'. But at the end, the revelation of God to man brings hope and salvation; the first word is made flesh. Strauss expresses the movement from suffering to salvation through the modulation from minor to major key.

The Epiphany has been interpreted by many composers including Jonathan Dove, Judith Bingham and Richard Trunk whose work we hear in this programme.

In contrast, TS Eliot's The Journey of the Magi, read by Bertie Carvel, is a dramatic monologue from the point of view of one wise man. The anguished narrator, rather than expounding the joy of the birth or the beauty of the Eastern star, explains that the coming of Christ brought about the end of his world, 'the old dispensation'. The birth was 'bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.'

In Queen Herod, Carol Ann Duffy subverts the Epiphany story. The poem tells the tale of three queens whose visitation brings a warning: the eastern star heralds the birth of 'a swaggering lad' who will break her daughter's heart. Stansilaw Baranczak's The Three Magi introduces a secular aspect to the theme of epiphany, transposing the story to Communist Poland and the arrest of a dissident: the gold of a watch and the frankincense of cigarette smoke serve as substitutions for the Magi's gifts: 'what is this myrrh, anyway / you'd have to finally look it up / someday.'

Beethoven's Symphony No.3 expresses a secular epiphany in the finale, as its headlong rush is interrupted with a slow section, building to an overwhelming climax; Janacek's Taras Bulba describes a similar epiphanic movement.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sat 1 Sep 2012 18:15

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Richard Strauss

    Die heiligen drei Könige

    Performer: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Radio Symphonie Orchester Berlin, George Szell

    • EMI 7243 5 66908 2 0.
  • George Mackay Brown

    Epiphany Poem, read by Joanna David

  • Robert Fitzgerald

    Epiphany, read by Bertie Carvel

  • 00:07

    Jonathan Dove

    The Three Kings

    Performer: The Choir of Westminster Abbey, Robert Quinney, James O’Donnell

    • Hyperion CDA 67716.
  • WB Yeats

    The Magi, read by Joanna David

  • TS Eliot

    Journey of the Magi, read by Bertie Carvel

  • 00:14

    Lennie Tristano


    Performer: Lenni Tristano

    • FiveFour.
  • Carol Ann Duffy

    Queen Herod, read by Joanna David

  • 00:23

    Charles Koechlin

    Le Buisson ardent

    Performer: Radio Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, Heinz Holliger

    • Hanssler Classic CD93045.
  • Stanislaw Baranczak

    The Three Magi, read by Bertie Carvel

  • 00:29

    Judith Bingham


    Performer: the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, Huw Williams, John Scott

    • Helios, CDH55443.
  • Matthew Arnold

    Dover Beach, read by Joanna David

  • 00:35

    Leos Janáček

    Rhapsody for Orchestra 'Taras Bulba'

    Performer: Vienna Philharmonic, Sir Charles Mackerras

    • DECCA 4101382.
  • Robert Frost

    Revelation, read by Joanna David

  • 00:40

    Ludwig van Beethoven

    Symphony No.5 in C minor

    Performer: Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer

    • EMI Classics CDM 7638682.
  • Arthur Rimbaud

    Lives, translated by Wyatt Mason, read by Bertie Carvel

  • Marcel Proust

    Swann’s Way, translated by Scott Moncrieff and Kilmartin, read by Joanna David

  • 00:51

    Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

    'Manfred' op.58

    Performer: Russian National Orchestra, Mikhail Pletnev

    • Deutsche Grammophon 4398912.
  • William Shakespeare

    Twelfth Night, read by Joanna David

  • 00:59

    Richard Trunk

    Die heiligen drie Könige

    Performer: Olaf Bär, Helmut Deutsch

    • EMI CDC5562042.
  • 01:01

    Coleman Hawkins

    Don't Blame Me

    Performer: Coleman Hawkins, Barry Harris, Robert Cranshaw, Edward Locke

    • Pablo CD2310707.
  • Wole Soyinka

    In the Small Hours, read by Bertie Carvel

  • WH Auden

    Well so that is that, read by Bertie Carvel

  • 01:06

    Leos Janáček


    Performer: Vienna Philharmonic, Sir Charles Mackerras

    • DECCA 4101382.


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