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Live from the Free Thinking Festival

Actors Jonathan Keeble and Sian Thomas join singer Eliza Carthy, saxophonist Trish Clowes and members of Royal Northern Sinfonia in a programme on 'the limits of knowledge'.

Actors Jonathan Keeble and Sian Thomas are joined by the dazzling folk singer Eliza Carthy, the innovative saxophonist, composer and Radio 3 New Generation Artist Trish Clowes, members of Royal Northern Sinfonia and pianist Kate Thompson for a special live edition of Words and Music. The programme takes the theme of this year's Free Thinking Festival of Ideas, 'the Limits of Knowledge', with readings from Douglas Adams to Thomas Hardy and Kant to Ogden Nash. Music includes Messiaen's 'Quartet for the End of Time', Bach and Bartok, plus folk songs from Eliza Carthy and improvisations from Trish Clowes.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 2 Nov 2014 17:30

Music Played

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


    Knowledge, read by Jonathan Keeble

  • Trish Clowes

    Free Improvisation 1

    Performer: Trish Clowes (saxophone).

    I Feel I Am, read by Sian Thomas


    Andante tranquillo - Allegro assai (Wind Quintet No.1)

    Performer: Members of Royal Northern Sinfonia. Performer: Eilidh Gillespie (flute), Peter Sparks (clarinet), Pete Francomb (horn), Mike O’Donnell (oboe), Robin Kennard (bassoon).

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (extract from introduction), read by Jonathan Keeble


    A Brief History of Time (extract from Chapter 1: Our Picture of the Universe), read by Sian Thomas

  • Trad.

    Useful Knowledge

    Performer: Eliza Carthy.

    The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, read by Jonathan Keeble


    Genesis 3: 1-7, read by Sian Thomas


    Known Had I, read by Jonathan Keeble

  • SUK

    Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale St.Wenceslas, Op 35a

    Performer: Members of Royal Northern Sinfonia. Performer: Jane Nossek, Sasha Raikhlina (violins), Malcolm Critten (viola), Nicholas Trygstad (cello).

    Elegy 10 (Funeral Elegies), read by Jonathan Keeble

  • Frédéric Chopin

    Prelude in E minor, Op.28 No.4

    Performer: Kate Thompson (piano).

    Know Thyself, read by Sian Thomas

  • Trad.

    Pulling hard against the Stream

    Performer: Eliza Carthy.

    Science in God, read by Sian Thomas and Jonathan Keeble


    The Name of the Rose (extract), read by Jonathan Keeble


    Of Knowledge, read by Sian Thomas

  • Edward Elgar

    Allegro molto (String Quartet in E minor, Op.83) (opening extract)

    Performer: Members of the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Performer: Sara Wolstenholme, Sophie Appleton (violins), Malcolm Critten (viola), Nicholas Trygstad (cello).

    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, read by Jonathan Keeble

  • Béla Bartók

    Cushion Dance (44 Duos for 2 Violins, Sz.98 Book 1 No.14)

    Performer: Members of the Royal Northern Sinfonia.
  • BARTOK, improvised. TRISH CLOWES

    Cushion Dance (44 Duos for 2 Violins, Sz.98 Book 1 No.14)

    Performer: Michael O’Donnell (oboe), Trish Clowes (saxophone).

    Ask Daddy, He Won’t Know, read by Sian Thomas

  • Dmitry Shostakovich

    Polka (Two Pieces for String Quartet)

    Performer: Members of Royal Northern Sinfonia. Performer: Sara Wolstenholme, Jane Nossek (violins), Malcolm Critten (viola), Nicholas Trygstad (cello).
  • KANT, trans. Marcus Weigelt

    Critique of Pure Reason (Opening extract of Introduction), read by Jonathan Keeble

  • Olivier Messiaen

    Fouillis d’arc-en-ciel (Quartet for the End of Time)

    Performer: Members of Royal Northern Sinfonia. Performer: Sara Wolstenholme (violin), Nicholas Trygstad (cello), Peter Sparks (clarinet), Kate Thompson (piano).
  • MROSLAV HOLUB, trans. David Young and Dana Habova

    Immanuel Kant, read by Sian Thomas

  • Johann Sebastian Bach

    Sarabande (Partita No.1 in B-flat major, BWV.825)

    Performer: Kate Thompson (piano).
  • CHUANG TZU, trans. Martin Palmer with Elizabeth Breuilly and Jay Ramsay

    What’s the Point of a Great Deal of Knowledge? (The Tao of Nature), read by Jonathan Keeble

  • Trish Clowes

    Free Improvisation 2

    Performer: Trish Clowes (saxophone).

    Culture and the Universe, read by Jonathan Keeble and Sian Thomas

  • Trad.

    100 years

    Performer: Eliza Carthy.

    The Soules Ignorance in this life and Knowledge in the Next, read by Sian Thomas

  • Trish Clowes

    Free Improvisation 3

    Performer: Trish Clowes (saxophone).

    The Encyclopedia of Infectious Diseases, read by Jonathan Keeble


    Knowledge, read by Sian Thomas

Producer Note

Today’s edition of Words and Music comes live from St Mary’s Church in Gateshead as part of Radio 3’s Festival of Ideas, Free Thinking.  I have taken the theme of this year’s festival, ‘the limits of knowledge’, and my very first thought was Emanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, which sets out the first philosophical enquiry into the faculty of reason and the limits of knowledge.  Kant draws a distinct line between a posteriori knowledge – what we can ascertain through empirical experience – and a priori knowledge - the universal knowledge that we have independent of experience, such as mathematics.

What do we know?  How can we be certain that we really know what we think we know?  These are the questions that many writers ask beside Kant. 

But rather than taking Kant as the starting point, the poems and prose that I have chosen for this programme start from the idea of the beginning of knowledge as represented by the innocent empirical stance of John Clare saying, ‘I feel I am, I only know I am’, Stephen Hawking asking what we know of the universe and why we think we know better, and the scene from Genesis in which Adam and Eve first become aware of their nakedness. 

The texts that follow illustrate our growing sense of self-knowledge, from Hardy’s song ‘known had I what I knew not when we met eye to eye’, Francis Quarles’ Funeral Elegy 10, in which knowledge teaches us to know ourselves, and Alexander Pope’s poem, Know Thyself.

How do we acquire knowledge?  Why do we need to acquire knowledge?  Umberto Eco writes about how the purpose of the monastery in The Name of the Rose is to preserve and not to search for knowledge, ‘because the property of knowledge, as a divine thing, is that it is complete and has been defined since the beginning.’  Eco is followed by Sherlock Holmes musing about the amount of knowledge a man requires in order to do his work, and Ogden Nash’s brilliantly funny poem, Ask Daddy, He Won’t Know. 

The programme culminates with the limits of knowledge as outlined by Kant, followed by Chuang Tzu, who asks, ‘what’s the point of gaining a great deal of knowledge?’, and John Donne who shows that ‘the soules ignorance in this life’ is ‘knowledge in the Next’. 

We still have much left to discover and the programme ends with a quote from The Encyclopedia of Infectious Diseases which starkly underlines the current limits of mankind’s knowledge.

The musicians in today’s programme have worked with me to find music that reflects each of these texts.  Trish Clowes begins and ends the programme with the ethereal sound of her saxophone improvisations.  She also works alongside the two actors, Jonathan Keeble and Sian Thomas, to create an aural universe in which they recite Ortiz’s poem, Culture and the Universe.  Eliza Carthy has unearthed a comedy song called Useful Knowledge, which illustrates how the folk canon does philosophy, and a sweet song called Pulling hard against the Stream which follows beautifully from Alexander Pope’s Know Thyself.  Members of the Royal Northern Sinfonia and pianist Kate Thompson are playing a range of music, from the driving opening of the third movement of Elgar’sString Quartet in E minor, which fits with Sherlock Holmes, to a movement from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, a musical intimation of the limits of knowledge.

 Elizabeth Arno (producer)


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