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Perchance to Dream

Words and music on the subject of dreams, with readings by Sophie Thompson and Chiwetel Ejiofor. With work by Melville, Emily Bronte and Hardy, plus Berlioz, Stravinsky and Handel.

Freud argued that dreams could be interpreted, and for many literary characters, such as Winston in 1984 and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina the dream is used as a device to reveal the character's true or subconscious feelings. Nightmares are also well represented, with chilling passages from Moby-Dick and Wuthering Heights. There are also aspirational dreams from real people such as Churchill and George Mallory, and literary figures; Jude the Obscure is desperate to escape his miserable life through learning, while Rebecca Sharp sees a rich husband as her salvation. Prophetic and opium-induced dreams also feature, alongside music by Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Stravinsky and Handel. Extracts are read by Sophie Thompson and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Producer - Ellie Mant.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 24 Jan 2016 17:30

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    attr. Purcell

    The Tempest Overture- excerpt

    • ERATO 4509965552.
  • William Shakespeare

    Caliban’s Dream (The Tempest), reader Chiwetel Ejiofor

  • Lewis Carroll

    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, reader Sophie Thompson

  • 00:01

    Igor Stravinsky

    Jeu de Cartes; First Deal – excerpt

    • SONY SK 44917.
  • Sigmund Freud

    The Interpretation of Dreams, reader Chiwetel Ejiofor

  • 00:03

    Richard Wagner

    Träume (Wesendonk Lieder) arr violin and orchestra - excerpt

    • CHANDOS CHAN9354.
  • William Makepeace Thackeray

    Vanity Fair, reader Sophie Thompson

  • 00:07

    Jules Massenet

    Voyons, Manon (Manon)

    • EMI CDC557006.
  • Joseph Heller

    Catch 22, reader Chiwetel Ejiofor

  • 00:10

    Robert Schumann

    Traumerei (Kinderszenen)

    • DG 431167-2.
  • William Leighton

    Dreams, reader Sophie Thompson

  • 00:13

    Rebecca Clarke

    A Dream

    • GUILD GMCD 7208.
  • 00:15

    Peter Mennin

    Concertato (Moby Dick) – excerpt

    • DELOS DE3164.
  • Hermann Melville

    Moby Dick, reader Chiwetel Ejiofor

  • Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy

    We Are the Music-Makers, reader Sophie Thompson

  • 00:18

    Edward Elgar

    The Music Makers - excerpt

    • EMI CDC7476742.
  • George Mallory

    excerpt from a speech, reader Chiwetel Ejiofor

  • 00:21

    Franz Liszt

    Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne – excerpt

    • EMI CZS5685982.
  • George Orwell

    1984, reader Sophie Thompson

  • 00:24

    Gabriel Fauré

    Après une Rêve

    • DEUTSCHE GRAM 4763399.
  • John Kendrick Bangs

    In July, reader Chiwetel Ejiofor

  • 00:27

    Felix Mendelssohn

    Midsummer Night's Dream Overture – excerpt

    • EMI CDS7543482.
  • Leo Tolstoy

    Anna Karenina, reader Sophie Thompson

  • 00:30

    Alexander Scriabin


    • CHANDOS CHAN 8462.
  • Thomas Hardy

    Jude The Obscure, reader Chiwetel Ejiofor

  • 00:35


    Oh, what a beautiful City

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Kubla Khan, reader Sophie Thompson

  • 00:39

    Hector Berlioz

    Symphonie fantastique; Rêveries – excerpt

    • SONY MK39859.
  • 00:41


    Night Dances: Dance 2 – excerpt

    • ARGO 4525982.
  • Emily Bronte

    Wuthering Heights, reader Chiwetel Ejiofor

  • Dorothy Parker

    A Dream Lies Dead, reader Sophie Thompson

  • 00:44

    Benjamin Britten

    Cradle Song (Charm of Lullabies)

    • NAXOS 8.557205.
  • Jacob Sam-La Rose

    A Life in Dreams, reader Chiwetel Ejiofor

  • 00:49

    Claude Debussy


    • NIMBUS NI 5160.
  • King James Bible

    Genesis 37:3-11, reader Sophie Thompson

  • 00:53

    George Frideric Handel

    Joseph and his Brethren: Come, divine inspirer, come

    • HYPERION CDA671713.
  • Philip Larkin

    The North Ship - XXV, reader Chiwetel Ejiofor

  • 00:58

    Maurice Ravel - Daphnis and Chloe Suite no.2; Lever du jour – excerpt

  • Daphne Du Maurier

    Rebecca, reader Sophie Thompson

  • 01:03

    George Crumb

    Dream Sequence – excerpt

    • BRIDGE 9261.
  • Winston Churchill

    The Gathering Storm

  • 01:06

    William Walton

    Battle of Britain; March introduction – excerpt

    Orchestra: Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Conductor: Neville Marriner.
    • Chandos.
    • 18.
  • W. B. Yeats

    He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

  • 01:09

    Exon Singers

    He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

    Conductor: Matthew Owens.
    • Delphian.
    • 19.

Producer's Note - Perchance to Dream

Tonight’s Words and Music is on the subject of dreams. Freud argued that dreams could be interpreted, and with many literary characters the dream is used as a device to reveal the character’s true or subconscious feelings; George Orwell’s Winston feels his whole world is trapped in a glass paperweight, while Anna Karenina’s adulterous affair seems perfectly acceptable in her dreams, though she wakes from them in horror.  Nightmares are also well represented. Captain Ahab’s disturbed nights are caused by his obsession for revenge against the whale Moby Dick – the accompanying music by Peter Mennin was inspired by Meville’s novel. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights features another famous nightmare; Mr Lockwood dreams of a ghostly child called Catherine trying to get in through his window.  

There are also aspirational dreams, both literary and real. In The Gathering Storm, Winston Churchill describes his anticipation at taking control of Britain during the 2nd World War. For George Mallory, his only dream is to conquer Mount Everest, and Liszt’s symphonic poem Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne seemed to provide a suitably inspirational soundtrack. Jude the Obscure is desperate to escape his miserable existence by becoming a scholar in the city of Christminster, which he has built up in his mind to have almost mythical status. For other characters, the route to happiness is more mercenary; Rebecca Sharp sees a rich husband as her salvation, and this is accompanied by an equally grasping operatic character – Massenet’s Manon.

In the Bible Joseph has a famously prophetic dream, a story which was set to music by Handel in his little known sacred drama Joseph and his Brethren. Coleridge claimed to have written his poem Kubla Khan the day after an opium-induced dream, which has an obvious parallel with Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique in which a young musician dreams of his love after having poisoned himself, also with opium. The programme ends with WB Yeats’ poem He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, with a beautiful setting of the text by Howard Skempton. Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.


Producer – Ellie Mant


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