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The Great Escape

Adrian Dunbar and Jade Anouka perform readings from Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath depicting escapes from battle, prison, love and life. With music ranging from Dowland to Ligeti.

Adrian Dunbar and Jade Anouka with readings which look at escaping life, love, war and family. From the terror of a monstrous battle in Seamus Heaney's Beowulf, to the thrilling Prisoner of War break-out in Paul Brickhill's novel The Great Escape. There's also the more existential desire to escape one's gender or relationship, dealt with by the likes of Christina Rossetti and Sylvia Plath. Then there's the escape we find in sleep and eventually death, explored by Shakespeare and Yeats. Mirroring the mood of our escapees is a soundtrack which features everything from Dowland to Ligeti, Elena Kaats-Chernin to Vaughan Williams.

Producer: Georgia Mann-Smith

1 hour, 14 minutes

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Elena Kaats-Chernin


    Performer: Sarah Nicolls (piano), Nicola Sweeney (violin).
    • SIGNUM SIGCD058.
    • Tr. 13.
  • Emily Dicksinson

    I Never Hear The Word 'Escape' read by Jade Anouka

  • Paul Brickhill

    Extract from The Great Escape read by Adrian Dunbar

  • 00:00

    Aaron Copland

    Billy the Kid - suite, no.5; Gun battle

    Performer: New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein (conductor).
    • SONY SMK63082.
    • Tr. 17.
  • 00:00

    Bob Dylan

    Drifter’s Escape

    Performer: Bob Dylan.
  • Roald Dahl

    Extract from The Witches read by Jade Anouka

  • 00:00

    Modest Mussorgsky

    Extract from Night on a Bald Mountain

    Performer: Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (conductor).
    • MARIINSKY MAR 0553.
    • Tr. 20.
  • Seamus Heaney


  • Siegfried Sasson

    Everyone Sang read by Adrian Dunbar

  • 00:00

    Ralph Vaughan Williams

    5 Mystical songs, no.5; Antiphon (Let all the world)

    Performer: Corydon Singers, English Chamber Orchestra, Matthew Best.
    • HYPERION CDS44322.
    • Tr. 6.
  • E. M Forster

    Extract from A Room With A View read by Jade Anouka

  • 00:00


    Sonata for piano no.32 (Op.111) in C minor, 1st mvt; Maestoso - allegro...

    Performer: Eric Heidsieck (piano).
    • EMI 387757-2.
    • Tr. 9.
  • 00:00

    Ralph Vaughan Williams

    Dark Pastoral for cello and orchestra (final section)

    Performer: Guy Johnston (cello), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Martin Yates (conductor).
    • DUTTON CDLX7289.
    • Tr.10.
  • Sylvia Plath

    The Rabbit Catcher read by Sylvia Plath

  • D.H Lawrence

    Escape read by Jade Anouka

  • 00:00

    Nina Simone

    How I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free

  • Christina Rossetti

  • 00:00

    Clara Schumann

    Piano Trio in G minor, last Mvt

    Performer: Antje Weithaas (violin), Tanja Tetzlaff (cello), Gunilla Sussmann (piano).
    • AVI MUSIC AVI8553294.
    • Tr. 2.
  • 00:00


    Extract from Fantasia in G minor in 7 parts ‘In Nomine’

    Performer: Fretwork.
    • Tr.15.
  • Shakespeare

    Extract from Henry V read by Adrian Dunbar

  • 00:00

    John Dowland

    Come Heavy Sleep

    Performer: Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Thomas Dunford (lute).
    • HYPERION CDA68007.
    • Tr.19.
  • Margaret Attwood

    The Landlady

  • 00:00

    György Ligeti

    L'escalier du diable

    Performer: Jeremy Denk (piano).
    • NONESUCH 7559-79621-9.
    • Tr. 15.
  • Robert Service

    My Holiday read by Adrian Dunbar

  • 00:00

    Sir Cliff Richard & The Shadows

    Summer Holiday

  • 00:00

    Francis Poulenc

    Aubade: (vii) Conclusion. Adagio

    Performer: Louis Lortie (piano), BBC Philharmonic, Edward Gardner (conductor).
    • CHANDOS CHAN 10875.
    • Tr.10.
  • Philip Larkin

    Aubade read by Jade Anouka

  • 00:01

    Bessy Smith

    Down in the Dumps

  • Yeats

    Sailing to Byzantium read by Adrian Dunbar

  • Sara Teasdale

    Since There Is No Escape read by Jade Anouka

  • 00:01

    John Adams

    Extract from Grand Pianola Music (Part II ‘On the dominant divide’)

    Performer: San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor).
    • SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY SFS 21938 0063-2.
    • Tr. 9.

Producer's Note:

When I made this programme the summer holidays were almost upon us and the thought of escape was much on my mind. In this edition I’ve tried to explore how the idea of escape frames many of our relationships and fears – as well as our hopes. From Emily Dickinson’s “ flying attitude” at the very mention of escape to Paul Brickhill’s thrilling description of one of the most daring escapes of the second world war; from the claustrophobic relationship described in Sylvia Plath’s The Rabbit Catcher to Margaret Attwood’s sinister The Landlady. Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bald Mountain accompanies two tales of escape from sinister forces: Roald Dahl’s depiction of a boy fleeing the Grand High Witch and Seamus Heaney’s Beowolf escaping the grip of the monster Grendel. Siegfried Sassoon brings a note of euphoria with his description of battle-wearied soldiers escaping the misery of war through song, musically matched by Vaughan Williams’ soaring Let all the world in every corner sing. Lucy Honeychurch from E.M Forster’s Room With a View also uses music as a means of escape, playing Beethoven lifts her out of the polite and constricted society she inhabits. Christina Rossetti and Nina Simone explore the desire to escape the constraints of gender and race while Robert Service takes a rye stance on escaping his offspring during the holidays. Sleep as a means of escape is masterfully dealt with by Shakespeare in Henry IV Part 2 and by Dowland in his song Come Heavy Sleep. The final section of the programme explores the idea of the ultimate escape: from this life into the next, from the bodily life to the spiritual. Larkin’s melancholy reflection on the inevitability of death in Aubade is followed by one of his own Desert Island Discs choices, Bessy Smith’s I'm Down In The Dumps. We finish with Sara Teasdale finding liberation in the escape death provides: “Life is my lover—I shall leave the dead  If there is any way to baffle death.” That vital, affirmatory vision finds musical expression in John Adams’ On The Dominant Divide from Grand Pianola Music.

By Georgia Mann-Smith


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