There Will Be Blood
Texts and music on the theme of blood, with readings by Indira Varma and Rory Kinnear. With John Webster, Bram Stoker and Heaney, and Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Gluck, Bartok and Barber.
The theme is blood and the anticipation of it being spilled: whether in war, sacrifice or murder.
Indira Varma and Rory Kinnear read poems and prose by John Webster, Bram Stoker, Carol Ann Duffy and Seamus Heaney. Music is by Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Gluck, Bartók, Barber, Alessandro Scarlatti, Gavin Bryars and Harrison Birtwistle.
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
from The Duchess of Malfi, reader Indira Varma
from Dracula, reader Rory Kinnear
Carol Ann Duffy
Salome, reader Indira Varma
from Macbeth, reader Indira Varma
from All Day Permanent Red, reader Rory Kinnear
The Maldive Shark, reader Indira Varma
Who Killed Cock Robin?, reader Rory Kinnear
Actaeon, reader Indira Varma
José de Acosta
Human Sacrifice among the Aztecs c 1520, reader Rory Kinnear
Aeschylus, trans. Richard Lattimore
Cassandra, from Agamemnon, reader Indira Varma
The Parable of the Old Man and the Young, reader Rory Kinnear
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, reader Rory Kinnear
Alfred Lord Tennyson
In Memoriam, Be Near Me When My Light is Low, reader Rory Kinnear
There is a Fountain Filled With Blood , reader Rory Kinnear
The programme begins with music from Verdi’s version of Macbeth, perhaps one of our bloodiest tales, and a song from John Webster’s murderous masterpiece, the Duchess of Malfi, anticipating the deaths to come. Later we meet Cassandra the doomed Trojan prophetess whose visions are of the ongoing bloodshed unleashed in the House of Atreus, by the sacrifice of Iphegenia.
The creep of blood described in Tennyson’s In Memoriam is one of dread but the excitement of anticipation is not straightforward. Here in an extract from Bram Stoker’s Dracula we peep, with the protagonist, through his lashes and experience his delicious horror at the voluptuous approach of the vampire.
Blood’s association with love and desire is longstanding. Those of a sanguine temperament were said to be amorous and today we might refer to those of a lustier disposition as being hot-blooded. The final, beautiful duet of Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea sees “love” triumph over “fortune” or “virtue” but those with a historical understanding will know that the Roman Emperor Nero and his second wife Poppea’s honeymoon was short-lived. He would go on to cause her death with a kick to the stomach. Likewise, the exquisite beauty of Carlo Gesualdo’s madrigals belie his notoriety as murderer of his wife and her lover.
After a circulation boosting polka from Johann Strauss II we meet women with blood on their hands: Lady Macbeth and Medea and, in Carol Ann Duffy’s Salome’s case, a woman with an unexpected head on her pillow. There’s reference to the very first recorded murder – that of Abel by Cain and there’s beastly power in the depiction of the Greek warrior Hector as an East African lion about to spring with deadly intent and in Melville’s description of the Maldive Shark’s charnel maw.
The murder of Cock Robin is matched with a song, The Cutty Wren, about the old English tradition of a ritual Boxing Day hunt of a wren and we hear, from Seamus Heaney, of Actaeon’s horrible transformation to a stag and his death: torn apart by his own hounds. The turn of the year is also a time of magical bloodshed and it is amidst the feasting and celebration of King Arthur’s court that the great Green Knight appears and demands his head be sliced from his shoulders.
Traditionally, of course, the cuckoo is the herald of spring but its call is also one of the most certain signs of impending death. The cuckoo chick, hatched in the nest of another bird, swiftly dispatches the other eggs, sacrificing its companions the better to survive itself. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is set alongside a cool, contemporary account of the practice of Aztec sacrifice during the sixteenth century and La Llorona, the legendary weeping-woman of South American legend, sometimes linked with the conquest of the Aztecs, sings for her lost children.
Wilfred Owen refashions the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac for a World War I context. In the original story the obedient Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac as God has instructed him, an angel intervenes at the last moment and a ram is sacrificed in Isaac’s stead. Here Abraham refuses to slaughter the Ram of Pride and kills his son and “half the seed of Europe, one by one.”
Blood plays a vital part in Christian symbolism: Jesus’ blood shed to redeem the sinners of the world and remembered in the ritual of the Eucharist, prayers and hymns. Here there’s a verse from William Cowper’s There is a Fountain Filled with Blood and a remarkable piece by Gavin Bryars which uses a looped recording of a homeless man singing a religious song: Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet to extraordinary emotionally powerful effect.
Producer: Natalie Steed