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Kafka and Co

Texts and music exploring the themes in Kafka, such as the absurd, isolation, chaos, parents and children, transformation and authority. Readers: Rory Kinnear and Juliet Stevenson.

Poetry, prose and music exploring the themes in Kafka - the absurd, isolation, chaos, parents and children, transformation and authority. The readers are Rory Kinnear and Juliet Stevenson. With poems and prose by Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Carol Ann Duffy and U.A. Fanthorpe and music by Martinu, Dvorak, Gideon Klein, Krenek, Talking Heads, Prokofiev, Kurtag and Rufus Wainwright.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Wed 30 Dec 2015 16:30

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Ernst Krenek

    6 Motets to Words by Franz Kafka

    Performer: Caroline Stein, soprano and Philip Mayers, piano.
    • Harmonia Mundi HMC902049.
    • 2.
  • Samuel Beckett

    from Quatre Poemes read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 00:02

    Max Richter

    The Blue Notebooks – Written on the Sky

    Performer: Max Richter.
    • FAT CAT CD1304.
    • 11.
  • Franz Kafka

    from The Metamorphosis read by Rory Kinnear

  • 00:05

    Gideon Klein

    Forbidden Music - Trio

    Performer: Daniel Hope, Philip Dukes and Paul Watkins.
    • NIMBUS NI5702.
    • 1.
  • 00:08

    Talking Heads

    Psycho Killer

    • SIRE 8122764882.
    • 2.
  • Carol Ann Duffy

    Medusa read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 00:14

    Bohuslav Martinu

    Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra

    Performer: The Endellion String Quartet conducted by Richard Hickox.
    • VIRGIN CLASSICS VC7910992.
    • 4.
  • Billy Collins

    Metamorphosis read by Rory Kinnear

  • 00:19

    Philip Glass


    Performer: Philip Glass.
    • SONY SBK64133.
    • 12.
  • Franz Kafka

    from The Trial read by Rory Kinnear

  • 00:24

    Antonín Dvořák

    Slavonic Dances - Dumka

    Performer: Tschechische Philharmoniev conducted by Vaclav Neumann.
    • TELDEC 842203.
    • 2.
  • U.A. Fanthorpe

    You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 00:31

    György Kurtág

    Kafka Fragments

    Performer: Anu Komsi, soprano and Sakari Oramo, violin.
    • ONDINE ODE8682.
    • 23.
  • 00:33

    Hans Krása

    Tanec String Trio

    Performer: Daniel Hope, Philip Dukes and Paul Watkins.
    • NIMBUS NI5702.
    • 14.
  • Samuel Beckett

    from Waiting for Godot read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 00:39

    Erwin Schulhoff

    Quatuor a cordes calliope

    Performer: Talichovo kvarteto.
    • CALLIOPE CAL9333.
    • 9.
  • Joseph Heller

    from Catch 22 read by Rory Kinnear

  • Lewis Carroll

    from Alice in Wonderland read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 00:47

    Bohuslav Martinu

    The Quarrelsome Queens

    Performer: Kuhn Mixed Chorus.
    • SUPRAPHON 1103802.
    • 4.
  • T.S. Eliot

    from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock read by Rory Kinnear

  • 00:50

    Gideon Klein

    Duo for Violin and Violoncello

    Performer: Daniel Hope, Philip Dukes and Paul Watkins.
    • NIMBUS NI5702.
    • 15.
  • Franz Kafka

    from Letter to my Father read by Rory Kinnear

  • 00:57

    Rufus Wainwright

    Dinner at Eight

    Performer: Rufus Wainwright.
    • DREAMWORKS 4505041.
    • 14.
  • Harold Pinter

    Poem read by Rory Kinnear

  • 01:03

    Nigel Kennedy

    Kafka - Solitude

    Performer: Nigel Kennedy.
    • EMI CDEMD1095.
    • 10.
  • Franz Kafka

    At Night read by Juliet Stevenson

  • 01:10

    Alfred Schnittke

    Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra

    Performer: Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich.
    • 1.
  • Samuel Beckett

    from The Unnameable read by Rory Kinnear

Producer's Note

This week’s Words and Music is part of a series of BBC programmes exploring the life and work of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating writers, Franz Kafka. In ‘Kafka and Co.’ you’ll be hearing work by Kafka himself, poets and novelists who were influenced by him and the work of writers drawn to the themes we think of as ‘Kafkaesque’ - the absurdity and illogicality of life, isolation and loneliness, bureaucracy, alienation and family conflict - with music by Czech composers and composers inspired by the writer.

‘Kafka and Co.’ begins with Krenek’s ‘Six Motets after Kafka’. Krenek, a composer of Czech origin, knew the writer’s work well and, in this work, attempted to capture his world using fragments from his writings. Rory Kinnear reads from ‘The Metamorphosis’, Kafka’s novella published one hundred years ago. It tells the story of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman, who wakes one morning in the family home to find he has been transformed into a large insect. Alongside this Talking Head’s ‘Psycho Killer’ echoes Kafka’s themes of confusion and alienation.

Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Medusa’, read by Juliet Stevenson, also features a character facing social isolation and loneliness, someone, like Gregor, who is shunned by society. Billy Collins’ ‘Metamorphosis’ reimagines Gregor’s situation but dreams of waking up transformed into the New York Public Library, a blissful experience where ‘I would feel the pages of books turning inside me like butterflies’.

An extract from ‘The Trial’, is heard with Dvorak’s ‘Dumka’ from his ‘Slavonic Dances’, which, like Kafka’s work, draws on the Czech folk tradition. In the novel ideas of justice, the absurd, guilt and the illogicality and lunacy of bureaucracy are explored. U.A. Fanthorpe’s wonderful ‘You Will be Hearing from us Shortly’ also explores these ideas of power and control in her poem about a nightmarish job interview. This is followed by Gyorgy Kurtag’s ‘Kafka Fragments,’ his song cycle in which he drew on forty phrases and sentences from the letters and diaries.

Samuel Beckett shared Kafka’s sense of the absurdity of life. Both were fascinated by the concept of ‘waiting’. A passage from ‘Waiting for Godot’ is heard with the Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff’s ‘Quatuor a cordes Calliopes’. As a German Jew in Prague Schulhoff shared the feeling of being an outsider.

In Kafka’s ‘Letter to my Father’ he held his estranged father accountable for the emotional abuse he felt had marked his childhood. This is followed by Rufus Wainwright’s exploration of his fractious relationship with his father in ‘Dinner at Eight’.

The programme ends with the closing passage of Samuel Beckett’s ‘The Unnameable’, a Kafkaesque struggle for the unattainable, with Schnittke’s ‘Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra’.

Producer: Fiona McLean


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