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Boredom, Restlessness, Killing Time

An exploration of boredom, as a spur to action of an opportunity for contemplation, in Madame Bovary, Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, Jane Austen's Emma and the songs of Cole Porter.

An exploration of the experience of boredom. Whether it's an idle moment or a life sentence, a spur to action or opportunity for contemplation, it's provided writers and musicians with a rich area to explore: Flaubert's Madame Bovary is driven to a disastrous affair, Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim resorts to pulling grotesque faces, Jane Austen's Emma scorns a boring acquaintance, and Beckett's The Unnameable contrives a complex inner life of invention from doing absolutely nothing. In music, the Prince in Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges is dying of boredom, which provokes the courtiers to elaborate entertainments to revive him; for Cole Porter, "practically everything leaves me totally cold"; and the Buzzcocks are "waiting for the phone to ring"....
With readings by Pip Carter and Skye Hallam.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 1 Jul 2018 17:30

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

  • 00:00

    Neil Innes & Vivian Stanshall

    I’m Bored

    Performer: The Bonzo Dog Band.
    • EMI 0946 3 87889 2.
    • 14.
  • Saul Bellow

    thoughts on boredom from Humboldt’s Gift, read by Pip Carter

  • 00:00

    Philip Glass

    Contrary Motion

    Performer: Philip Glass (organ).
    • Elektra Nonesuch 7559793262.
    • 2.
  • John Cage

    a zen view of boredom, read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00

    Buzzcocks

    Boredom

    • Mute/The Grey Area scratch1cd.
    • 3.
  • William Shakespeare

    Macbeth is bored with life, read by Pip Carter

  • 00:00

    Neil Innes & Vivian Stanshall

    I’m Bored

    Performer: The Bonzo Dog Band.
    • EMI 0946 3 87889 2.
    • 14.
  • Wendy Cope

    Mr Strugnell – a poem satirising Philip Larkin’s verse and life, read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00

    Cole Porter

    I get a kick out of you

    Performer: Ella Fitzgerald.
    • Essential Jazz Classics EJC554454.
    • 6.
  • 00:00

    Julius Fucik

    The Grouchy Old Bear (Der alte Brummbar)

    Performer: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vaclav Neumann.
    • Teldec 8.42337.
    • 5.
  • H.G. Wells

    Mr Polly is feeling obscurely irritated with his life – or perhaps he is bored…(from The History of Mr Polly), read by Pip Carter

  • 00:00

    Julius Fucik

    The Grouchy Old Bear (Der alte Brummbar)

    Performer: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vaclav Neumann.
    • Teldec 8.42337.
    • 5.
  • William Makepeace Thackeray

    Becky Sharp is initially delighted to be moving in fashionable 18th C circles, but then after a while she finds that it’s all rather tedious – she’d rather be performing at a fair (from Vanity Fair), read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00

    Igor Stravinsky

    The Shrovetide Fair (from Petrushka)

    Performer: The Philharmonia conducted by Eliahu Inbal.
    • Teldec 229246327-2.
  • Charles Dickens

    Lord and Lady Dedlock visit Paris, but despite the many attractions and distractions of the city, Lady Dedlock is bored to death (from Bleak House), read by Pip Carter

  • 00:00

    Claude Debussy

    Recueillement

    Performer: Felicity Lott (soprano) Graham Johnson (piano).
    • Harmonia Mundi HM901219.
    • 14.
  • Margaret Atwood

    in this poem called Bored, a girl remembers how bored she was, living with her father, read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00

    Scott Joplin

    Real Slow Drag

    Performer: Philip Dyson (piano).
    • ASV CDWHL2120.
    • 12.
  • Friedrich Engels

    a description of the stupefying effects of factory work (from the Condition of Working Class in England), read by Pip Carter

  • 00:00

    Mosolov

    The Iron Foundry

    Performer: Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink.
    • Decca 4366402.
    • 1.
  • Saul Bellow

    the power of totalitarianism explained as boredom combined with terror (from the novel, Humboldt’s Gift), read by Pip Carter

  • 00:00

    Dmitri Shostakovich

    String Quartet no.8, 2nd movement

    Performer: Borodin Quartet.
    • Decca 425541-2.
  • 00:00

    Aaron Copland

    Quiet City

    Performer: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
    • DG 4273352.
    • 5.
  • Leroi Jones

    Epistrophe for Yoda, read by Pip Carter (a Beat Poet stares out of his window in New York, wishing for something to happen)

  • 00:00

    Boyce

    Gavotte from Symphony no.4

    Performer: Brandenburg Consort conducted by Roy Goodman.
    • Hyperion CDA66600.
    • 8.
  • Jane Austen

    a picnic at Box Hill and Emma makes fun of Miss Bates for being a bore. From the novel Emma, read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00

    William Walton

    Scapino (Comedy Overture)

    Performer: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Groves.
    • EMI 7 63369 2.
    • 2.
  • 00:00

    Arthur Honegger

    Pastorale d’Ete

    Performer: Lausanne Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos.
    • Virgin Classics VC 791486-2.
    • 1.
  • Gustave Flaubert

    Emma Bovary is desperately bored with her life as the wife of a country doctor (from the novel Madame Bovary), read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:01

    Arthur Honegger

    Pastorale d’Ete

    Performer: Lausanne Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos.
    • Virgin Classics VC 791486-2.
    • 1.
  • Fernando Pessoa

    a Portuguese man compares his boss with life – monotonous and banal, but necessary (from The Book Of Disquiet), read by Pip Carter

  • 00:01

    Procol Harum

    Boredom

    Performer: Procol Harum.
    • Dojo EARLD6.
    • 4.

Words And Music: Boredom. Producer’s Note

An exploration of the varied experiences of boredom. Whether it's an idle moment or a life sentence, a spur to action or opportunity for contemplation, it's provided writers and musicians with a rich area to explore.

 In four contrasting 19th Century novels, we hear how differently boredom strikes certain women. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is desperately bored by her life as the wife of a country doctor, and feels as though nothing ever happens; Jane Austen's Emma is much happier with her life, but on a picnic at Box Hill she finds her companions so dull that she is tempted into making a cruel remark.

Becky Sharp, the irrepressible heroine of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, is also inclined to enjoy life, especially when she finds herself moving among the fashionable and wealthy social strata of London - so she is surprised to find that this whirl of activity is actually rather a bore.   As for Lady Dedlock (in Dickens’ Bleak House), she visits Paris with her husband, but what should be an exciting excursion to a glamorous foreign capital, leaves her “bored to death”.

In contrast to these social boredoms, we find existential weariness and lassitude afflicting Mr Polly (in HG Wells’ The History of Mr Polly). He is so bored that his digestion is ruined, and he can’t see a way out of his “hole”. (His grumpiness is matched with Fucik’s orchestral depiction of a grumbling Brown Bear). Fernando Pessoa and Leroi Jones on the other hand, seem to rather enjoy their experiences of idleness. Pessoa (in the Book Of Disquiet) waxing philosophical about his boring boss; while Leroi Jones rather hopes that “some weird-looking animal” might come along to distract him.  Wendy Cope satirises that great poet of the mundane, Philip Larkin, in her poem Mr Strugnell, who has to move to Hull because he finds his quiet life in a bedsit in Tulse Hill “too stimulating”.

On a more serious note, the philosopher Friedrich Engels writes indignantly about the stupefying effect of 19th Century industrial work (in The Condition of the Working Class in England) - this is followed by Mosolov’s orchestral depiction of an Iron Foundry; and Saul Bellow, in his novel Humboldt’s Gift, looks at how dictators use boredom “seasoned with terror” as an instrument of social control. We then hear music by Shostakovich, who was very familiar with the boredom and fear of living under Stalin in Russia - his 8th string quartet evokes the nervous agitation of this climate of fear.

Other music in this sequence includes a Debussy setting of Baudelaire, the great poet of ennui; Ella Fitzgerald sings Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out of You, (“practically everything leaves me totally cold”); and two British pop bands who have written witty songs on the subject: the Buzzcocks (“life just seems very humdrum”) and Procol Harum, who bring the sequence to a close singing

“all in all, it’s all the same - but call me if there’s any change”.

Philip Tagney (producer)

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