Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Get Thee to a Nunnery

Texts and music on the theme of nuns, with readings by Sheila Hancock and Ellie Kendrick. With Charlotte Bronte, Shakespeare and Chaucer, plus Puccini, Poulenc and Rossini.

Music, poetry and prose on the theme of Nuns. Read by Sheila Hancock and Ellie Kendrick.

The figure of the nun has long exerted a powerful influence on the imagination.

From the chaste and pious figure of St Teresa of Avila to the tragic and imprisoned nuns of Puccini's Suor Angelica and Diderot's The Nun. From the courageous martyrs of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites to the sexually transgressive and possessed nuns of the convent at Loudun.

There's the sad nun, disappointed in love, as portrayed by Alexander Pope in Eloisa to Abelard. The Courtesan who finds redemption in Massenet's Thais. The ghostly terrifying figure of the nun in Matthew Lewis' The Monk. And of course nuns have been the source of much comedy, such as Chaucer's social climbing Prioress, or the men dressed as nuns in Rossini's Comte Ory.

For centuries entering a convent was one of the few ways women could gain independence and express themselves in music and poetry. Saint Hildegard of Bingen, who founded two monasteries in the 12th Century, is one of the most significant early composers of Western music, and the 17th Century Italian nun Caterina Assandra also achieved recognition and fame for her work. Her beautiful motet Duo Seraphim has been one of my favourite discoveries in making this programme.

Producer: Timothy Prosser.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 7 Oct 2012 18:30

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Annunciation Bells


    Performer: The Benedictine Nuns of Notre-Dame de l’Annonciation

    • Decca 2748264.
  • Denis Diderot

    From The Nun (Ellie Kendrick)

  • 00:01

    Chant from Avignon

    Offertory: Recordare

    Performer: The Benedictine Nuns of Notre-Dame de l’Annonciation

    • Decca 2748264.
  • William Wordsworth

    Nuns Fret Not (Sheila Hancock)

  • 00:03

    Giacomo Puccini

    Suor Angelica, Senza mamma

    Performer: Cristina Gallardo-Domas, London Symphony Orchestra, Antonio Pappano (conductor)

    • EMI CDC 5565872.
  • Arnold Wesker

    from Caritas (Ellie Kendrick)

  • 00:08

    Antonio Vivaldi

    Concerto for cello in A minor RV419, Allegro (composed for the Ospedale della Pieta)

    Performer: Christophe Coin (cello), Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini (conductor)

    • Naïve op 30426.
  • Geoffrey Chaucer

    The Prioress’ Prologue from The Canterbury Tales (Sheila Hancock)

  • 00:13

    Gioachino Rossini

    Le Comte Ory, Dans ce lieu solitaire (the men are disguised as nuns)

    Performer: Gino Quilico (Raimbaud), Orchestre de l’Opera de Lyon, John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)

    • Philips 4224062.
  • William Shakespeare

    To Whom Should I Complain, from Measure for Measure (Ellie Kendrick)

  • 00:19

    Caterina Assandra (Convent in 17th Century Lombardy)

    Duo Seraphim

    Performer: Cappella Artemisia, Candace Smith (conductor)

    • Tactus TC 600003.
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins

    from The Wreck of the Deutschland (Sheila Hancock)

  • 00:25

    Krzysztof Penderecki

    The Devils of Loudun, end of Act 1 (Jeanne's possession)

    Performer: Tatiana Troyanos, Hamburg State Opera Orchestra, Marek Janowski (conductor)

    • Philips 446 3282.
  • Aldous Huxley

    from The Devils of Loudun (Ellie Kendrick)

  • 00:30


    Robert Le Diable, the ballet of the fallen nuns

    Performer: Orchestra internazionale d’Italia, Renato Palumbo (conductor)

    • Dynamic CDS 368.
  • Muriel Spark

    from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Sheila Hancock)

  • 00:36

    Sir James MacMillan

    Strachclyde Motet, Factus est repente

    Performer: Cappella Nova, Alan Tavener (conductor)

    • Linn CKD 301.
  • Hildegard of Bingen

    Hail to you verdant rod (Sheila Hancock)

  • 00:39

    Jules Massenet

    Thais, Meditation

    Performer: Michel Schwaldbe, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan

    • DG 445 282 2.
  • Tennyson

    from St Agnes’ Eve (Ellie Kendrick)

  • 00:46

    Francis Poulenc

    Dialogues des Carmelites, Ave Maria

    Performer: Martine Dupuy, Orchestra and Chorus de O’Opera de Lyon, Kent Nagano (conductor)

    • Virgin 7592272.
  • Eleanor of Acquitaine

    A letter from her convent (Sheila Hancock)

  • 00:49

    Byzantine Chant

    Christos Anesti

    Performer: Soeur Marie Keyrouz, Chorale de l’eglise Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre

    • Harmonia Muni 901315.
  • Alexander Pope

    from Eloisa to Abelard (Ellie Kendrick)

  • 00:53

    Johann Strauss II

    Casanova, Nun's Chorus

    Performer: Joan Sutherland, Ambrosian Light Opera Chorus, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Richard Bonynge (conductor)

    • Decca 417 780.
  • Matthew Lewis

    The Bleeding Nun, from The Monk (Ellie Kendrick)

  • 00:58

    Charles‐François Gounod

    La Nonne Sanglante, Overture (opera based on Matthew Lewis' The Monk)

    Performer: Osnabruck Symphony Orchestra, Hermann Baumer (conductor)

    • CPO 777 3882.
  • Rumer Godden

    from Black Narcissus (Sheila Hancock)

  • 01:09

    Hildegard von Bingen

    Antiphon from the Feast of St Ursula

    Performer: Anonymous 4

    • Harmonia Mundi 907200.
  • St Teresa of Avila

    God Alone is Enough (Ellie Kendrick)

  • 01:11

    Rogers and Hammerstein

    The Sound of Music, Climb Every Mountain

    Performer: Peggy Wood

    • ND90368.


The hidden history of plant-based diets

The hidden history of plant-based diets

Forget social media influencers - the meat-free movement started with the Victorians.

Books website

Books website

Get closer to books with in-depth articles, quizzes and our picks from radio & TV.