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The Fight Between Carnival and Lent

A sequence of poetry, prose and music inspired by The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, a 1559 oil painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Readers: Jenny Agutter and Peter Wight.

Jenny Agutter and Peter Wight with readings and music inspired by the 1559 oil painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The painting depicts the folk traditions surrounding Carnival and Lent in the German lands in the early decades of the Reformation. The selection of music and readings explores the more universal struggle, between the desire to eat, drink, and let lose, embodied in Carnival, and the spirit of restraint and self-control personified in Lent. Including readings from Rabelais, Baudelaire, Donne, and Emily Dickinson, and music from Verdi, Mozart, Bach and Penderecki.

Producer: Luke Mulhall.

First broadcast in May 2017 as part of Radio 3's Breaking Free season of programming exploring the impact of Martin Luther's Revolution.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 18 Feb 2018 17:30

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 - Contrapunctus 1

    Performer: Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner (Conductor).
    • Philips 4425562.
    • CD1 Tr1.
  • 00:00

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Art of Fugue: 14th Contrapunctus

    Performer: Keller Quartet.
    • Bach: Art of Fugue.
    • ECM.
  • John Donne

    Batter my heart, three person’d God, read by Jenny Agutter

  • 00:04

    Johann Schelle

    Durch Adams Fall

    Performer: La Capella Ducale, Musica Fiata, Roland Wilson (Conductor).
    • CPO 999 841-2.
    • Tr5.
  • Rebecca Lindenberg

    Carnival, read by Peter Wight

  • 00:07

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    Symphony No.40, K.550; I. Molto allegro

    Performer: Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan (Conductor).
    • EMI CDM5661002.
    • Tr1.
  • Gospel of St Luke, KJV

    4:1 – 4, read by Jenny Agutter

  • 00:15

    Karol Szymanowski

    Stabat Mater op.53; 4. ‘Spraw, niech p?acz? z Tob? razem’. Moderato

    Performer: BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner (Conductor).
    • Chandos CHSA5123.
    • Tr4.
  • Robert Herrick

    To Keep A True Lent, read by Jenny Agutter

  • 00:19

    Johann Hermann Schein

    Cantional, ‘Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her’

    Performer: Cantus Cölln, Konrad Junghänel (Conductor).
    • Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472773592.
    • Tr9.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche

    The Birth of Tragedy, read by Peter Wight

  • 00:26

    Robert Schumann

    Carnaval, op.9; Préambule

    Performer: Stefan Vladar.
    • Harmonia Mundi HMC 901890.
    • Tr13.
  • Mikhail Bakhtin

    Rabelais And His World, read by Peter Wight

  • 00:30

    Bob Dylan

    Rainy Day Woman #12 And 35

    Performer: Bob Dylan.
    • CBS ?– CDCBS 22130.
    • Tr1.
  • Charles Baudelaire

    Be Drunk, read by Peter Wight

  • 00:33

    Giuseppe Verdi

    La Traviata, “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (Brindisi)

    Performer: Rolando Villazón, Anna Netrebko, Wiener Philharmoniker, Carlo Rizzi (Conductor).
    • Deutsche Gramaphon 4775933.
    • CD1 Tr3.
  • 00:36

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Musikalisches Opfer, BWV 1079; Canon 2 a 2 violini in unisono

    Performer: Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner (Conductor).
    • Philips 4425562.
    • CD 2 Tr8.
  • Emily Dickinson

    I taste a liquor never brewed, read by Jenny Agutter

  • 00:37

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Musikalisches Opfer, BWV 1079; Canon 1 a 2 (Canon cancricans)

    Performer: Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner (Conductor).
    • Philips 4425562.
    • CD 2 Tr7.
  • James Stephens

    A Glass of Beer, read by Peter Wight

  • Anonymous

    The Drunk Poem, read by Peter Wight

  • 00:39

    Gyorgy Ligeti

    Musica ricercata, Adaptation for Barrel Organ; IV. Tempo de Valse (pocco vivace – “à l’orgue de Barbarie”)

    Performer: Pierre Charial (Organ, Barrel).
    • Sony Classical SK62310.
    • Tr10.
  • George Herbert

    The Invitation, read by Jenny Agutter

  • 00:42

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Magnificat, BWV 243; 1. Magnificat, tutti

    Performer: Ricercar Consort, Philippe Pierlot (Conductor).
    • Mirare MIR102.
    • Tr1.
  • Aelred of Rievaulx

    A Rule of Life for a Recluse, read by Jenny Agutter

  • 00:47

    Olivier Messiaen

    L’Ascension - (ii) Alléluias Serein D'Une Âme Qui Désire Le Ciel

    Performer: Kevin Bowyer (Organ of Salisbury Cathedral).
    • Continuum CCD1011.
    • Tr5.
  • Rabelais

    Gargantua & Pantagruel, read by Peter Wight

  • 00:54

    Armstrong, Lillian Hardin/Raye, Don

    Struttin’ With Some Barbecue

    Performer: Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five.
    • BBC Records And Tapes ?– BBC CD 597.
    • Tr7.
  • Lonnie Hicks

    Gluttony & I, read by Peter Wight

  • 00:59

    Franz Schubert

    String Quartet No.14 in D minor ‘Death & the Maiden’ D810; IV. Presto – Prestissimo

    Performer: Ehnes Quartet.
    • ONYX ONYX4163.
    • Tr4.
  • Anonymous

    Second Worcester Sermon, read by Jenny Agutter

  • 01:04

    Krzysztof Penderecki

    St Luke Passion, Part II; Popule Meus (Improperia)

    Performer: Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra, Antoni Wit (Conductor).
    • NAXOS 8 557149.
    • Tr16.
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins

    Easter Communion, read by Jenny Agutter

  • 01:09

    Richard Wagner

    Parsifal, Vorspiel – Prelude – Nicht Dank! Ha, ha! Was wird es helfen?

    Performer: Orchestra & Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre, Valery Gergiev (Conductor).
    • Mariinsky MAR 0508.
    • CD1 Tr1.

Producer's Note: The Fight between Carnival and Lent


This programme was produced to contribute to Radio 3’s series Breaking Free: Martin Luther’s Revolution, marking the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.  Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting of 1559, The Fight Between Carnival & Lent, depicts the religious traditions and tensions in the northern German lands in the decades following the start of the Reformation, and the conceit of the programme is that Bruegel was tapping into the deeper undercurrents and repercussions of the Reformation.  Whether the painting is a direct response to the specific ideas in play at the time is a moot point, but it is certainly a work deeply embedded in the cultural setting in which those ideas lived. 

But of course the contrast between carnival and lent speaks to a deeper tension in the human condition, between discipline and liberty, release and constraint. 

Donne and Lindenberg are intended to present the opening arguments. Donne’s Holy Sonnets offer a painfully personal presentation of a human predicament to which Donne can only see one answer, which is constantly absent: the love of God.  I like the oblique, playful but slightly sinister atmosphere created by Lindenberg in Carnival as an alternative response: if what’s underneath is so painful, inhabit the surface instead.

The contrasting calls of Carnival and Lent are developed via a series of readings from Luke’s Gospel, Robert Herrick, Friedrich Nietzsche and Mikhail Bakhtin, along with Karol Szymanowski, Johann Herman Schein, Robert Schumann and Bob Dylan. Matters come to a head over drinking.  I enjoyed setting Emily Dickinson’s plea for abstinence and James Stephens’ account of drunken dissatisfaction with two Bach variations on the same theme. 

After George Herbert’s beautiful plea for reconciliation in The Invitation, we explore gluttony and an overly moralistic response to it.  This opens out into the bleak landscape of Penderecki’s setting of the Improperia, Jesus’ remonstrations against his people from the Luke’s Passion (a piece of music that I find reminiscent of another of Bruegel’s paintings, The Triumph of Death). We end with the end of Lent in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetic sigh of relief in Easter Communion, and an extract from Wagner’s Prelude to Parsifal, a piece of music that Cosima Wagner claimed was associated with the thought ‘This is how Good Friday ought to be’.   

Luke Mulhall     


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