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Saints and Sinners

Texts and music on the theme of saints and sinners, with readings by Jonathan Pryce and Jenny Agutter. With Shakespeare, Dickens, TS Eliot and Tennyson, and Poulenc and Schoenberg.

Words and music on saints and sinners. With readings by Jonathan Pryce and Jenny Agutter from Shakespeare, Dickens, TS Eliot and Tennyson, and music from Poulenc and Schoenberg.

This edition is about actual saints - such as St Simeon Stylites and St Joan, and about the saintly - such as Amy Dorrit from Dickens' novel who selflessly looks after her father.

We hear about the fall of Th' infernal Serpent from Heaven in Milton's Paradise Lost, whilst one devil writes to another in one of CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters. There's a reading of the poem about sin that inspired Schoenberg's music of the same name, Verklärte Nacht.

And there's music from the final scene of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites, when the nuns go to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Thu 28 Dec 2017 17:00

Music Played

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

  • The Catechism

    Definition of Sin, Jonathan Pryce

  • The Catechism

    Definition of Sin, Jenny Agutter

  • The Catechism

    Definition of Sin, Jonathan Pryce

  • 00:01


    Verklärte Nacht

    Performer: Emerson String Quartet, Paul Neubauer (viola II), Colin Carr (cello II).
    • SONY 88725470602.
    • Tr5.
  • Richard Dehmel

    Verklärte Nacht, Jenny Agutter, Jonathan Pryce

  • St Joan

    Bernard Shaw, Jenny Agutter

  • 00:05

    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

    The Maid of Orleans

    Performer: Academic Choir and Symphony Orchestra of All-Union Radio and Television, Gennady Rozhdestvensky (conductor).
    • Melodiya MEL CD 10 02053.
    • CD3 Tr10.
  • CS Lewis

    The Screwtape Letters, Jonathan Pryce

  • 00:13

    Charles Mingus

    Solo Dancer (Stop! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney!)

    • Impulse IMP 11742.
    • Tr1.
  • Cornelius O’Brien

    St Cecilia, Jenny Agutter

  • 00:20

    Benjamin Britten

    Hymn to St Cecilia

    Performer: The Sixteen, Harry Christophers (conductor).
    • Collins 12862.
    • Tr 13.
  • John Dunne

    Annunciation, Jenny Agutter

  • 00:24

    Dmitry Shostakovich

    King Lear – The Storm

    Performer: Rundfunk Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Michail Jurowski (conductor).
    • Cappricio 10 397.
    • Tr 22.
  • William Shakespeare

    King Lear, Jonathan Pryce

  • 00:27

    Il Penseroso

    • Chandos CHAN 8900.
    • Tr 2.
  • St Francis of Assisi

    Canticle to Brother Sun, Jenny Agutter

  • 00:31

    Sofia Gubaidulina

    The Canticle of the Sun by St Francis of Assisi

    Performer: Danish National Choir, Stefan Parkman (conductor), David Geringas (cello).
    • CHANDOS CHAN 10106.
    • Tr3-7.
  • John Milton

    Paradise Lost, Jonathan Pryce

  • 00:38

    Hans Werner Henze

    Prison Song

    Performer: Gudrun Pelker (mezzo), Frieder Lang (tenor), Musikfabrik NRW, Johannes Kalitzke (conductor).
    • CPO 999 192-2.
    • 2.
  • Charles Dickens

    Little Dorrit, Jenny Agutter

  • 00:43

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Cantata 'Ich habe genug', BWV 82

    Performer: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mezzo), The Orchestra of Emanuel, Craig Smith (conductor).
    • NONESUCH 7559796922.
    • Tr1.
  • Alfred Tennyson

    St Simeon Stylites, Jonathan Pryce

  • 00:53

    Anton Webern

    Five Movements for String Quartet Op. 5 – First Movement

    Performer: Artis Quartett.
    • Sony Classical SK 48 059.
    • Tr4.
  • George Herbert

    Sin (1), Jenny Agutter

  • 00:56

    Thomas Attwood

    Turn thy Face from my Sins

    Performer: Choir of Ely Cathedral, Arthur Wills (director), Gerald Gifford (organ).
    • CHANDOS CHAN 6603.
    • Tr6.
  • Pedro Casaldáliga

    San Romero de América Our Pastor and Martyr, Jenny Agutter

  • 00:01

    Jean-Luc Ponty

    Eulogy to Oscar Romero

    Performer: Jean-Luc Ponty.
    • POLYDOR 817 189-2.
    • Tr4.
  • TS Eliot

    Murder in the Cathedral, Jonathan Pryce

  • 01:06

    Francis Poulenc

    Dialogue de Carmélites

    Composer: Francis Poulenc. Performer: Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon, Choeurs de l’Opéra de Lyon, London Chorus, Catherine Dubosc (soprano), Brigitte Fournier (soprano). Conductor: Kent Nagano (conductor).
    • Virgin Classics 0777 7 59277 2.
    • CD2 Tr29.

Producer Note

This edition of Words and Music comprises meditations on the theme of Saints and Sinners.

The programme opens with brief definitions of Sin from the Catechism.

The first sin described in the programme is in Richard Dehmel’s poem, Verklärte Nacht which describes a woman ‘carrying a child… in a state of sin’. We hear part of the music which the poem inspired Schoenberg to write.

The first saint we meet is St Joan, from Bernard Shaw’s play of the same name, in the speech where she is facing the prospect of imprisonment; this passage leads into music from the final scene of Tchaikovsky’s Maid of Orleans in which Joan is burned at the stake.

Devils take the stage next – the older devil Screwtape writing to his nephew Wormword on the nature of sin in relation to the human being (the ‘patient’). Suitably seedy-sounding music from Charlie Mingus – the Black Saint and the Sinner Lady – follows.

There are two pieces on the theme of St Cecilia, patron saint of music – a poem by Cornelius O’Brien and part of Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia with words by Auden.

In typically dense, elliptical language, John Donne in The Annunciation, one of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets describes the child that Mary will have as one ‘which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear’.

Music written by Shostakovich for a film version of Shakespeare’s King Lear leads to a pivotal scene in the play. Lear sees himself as ‘a man more sinn’d against than sinning’ but then turns to the Fool, showing compassion for the first time, ‘How dost my boy? Art cold?...I have one part in my heart that’s sorry for thee yet’. This moment of calm and reflection at the heart of the play leads to pensive piano music by Liszt.

Saint Francis is celebrated in his famous Canticle to Brother Sun, illustrated by music from Sofia Gubaidulina.

The theme of imprisonment links the next three items; the rebellious angels in Paradise Lost are thrown out of heaven to dwell in ‘their Prison ordain’d in utter darkness’. Henze’s Prison Song leads into a passage from Dickens in which Little Dorrit tenderly looks after her father William in prison without a thought for herself. The description of her saintly behaviour, wanting nothing for herself, leads to Bach’s aria Ich habe genung, ‘I have enough’ or ‘I am content’.

Tennyson’s grumpy, bad-tempered St Simeon Stylites who has sat on a pillar for three decades in the hope of sainthood enduring ‘Rain, wind, frost, heat, hail, damp, and sleet, and snow.’ His mood is illustrated by music from Webern.

George Herbert’s meditation on the difficulty of avoiding Sin is followed by Thomas Attwood’s anthem Turn Thy Face from My Sin.

Finally, the theme of martyrdom, which began early in the programme with St Joan, is explored further. We hear a poem and music about Archbishop Oscar Romero who Pope Francis has just confirmed died as a martyr (1). The fourth knight from TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral urbanely justifies the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. And the programme ends with Carmelite nuns going to the guillotine during the French Revolution, the final scene from Poulenc’s opera Dialogues des Carmélites, singing as they are beheaded one by one.

Producer Nick Holmes

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