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The Pre-Raphaelites

A sonic painting of music, poetry and prose inspired by the 19th-century artistic revolutionaries, the Pre-Raphaelites.

“They meant revolt, and produced revolution”: that's how one critic described the group of late 19th-century artists, poets and writers who came to be known as the Pre-Raphaelites. Actors Jamie Glover and Skye Hallam read words by the Pre-Raphaelites themselves, alongside the sources and subject matter that so fascinated them. Our journey through their artistic universe takes us from Malory’s Arthurian legends and the love poetry of Dante Alighieri in the 13th century, to the sometimes coruscating reviews of Victorian contemporaries like Charles Dickens.

Pre-Raphaelite art is full of woeful maidens with flowing hair, and many suggest that the real women who posed for the likes of Rossetti and Millais were exploited. We'll hear the death of Ophelia described by Shakespeare's Gertrude alongside poetry by Elizabeth Siddal, the celebrated muse who posed for Millais' painting Ophelia, spending days on end fully clothed in a bath full of freezing water.

Musically, we start with Gilbert and Sullivan's Overture to Patience, an operetta that included a character satirising the ever-so-slightly pompous Pre-Raphaelites. There’s also the glistening sound of Debussy's cantata La Damoiselle élue (The Blessed Damozel), based on Rossetti's poem of the same name, and a song from modern-day Pre-Raphaelite Florence Welch.

We finish with words by the only female member of the Pre-Raphaelite clan, Christina Rossetti, musing on how a painter's gaze always renders “One face” looking “out from all his canvases”. That's set against Martha Wainwright's heart breaking song Proserpina, bringing to mind Rossetti’s famous painting of Proserpine – a captive goddess looking out of the Pre-Raphaelite canvas.

1 hour, 14 minutes

Last on

Sun 20 Jan 2019 17:30

Music Played

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

  • 00:00

    Gilbert and Sullivan

    Extract from Patience, Overture

    Performer: D'Oyly Carte Opera Orchestra, John Owen Edwards (conductor).
    • TER, CDVIR8316.
  • William Michael Rossetti

    Extract from Thoughts towards Nature in Poetry, Literature and Art read by Jamie Glover

  • The Times, 1851

    Extract from The Times May 7th 1851 read by Skye Hallam

  • Malory

    Extract from Le Morte D'Arthur, King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table read by Jamie Glover

  • 00:00


    King Arthur; or, The British Worthy Z628: Overture

    Performer: Parley of Instruments, Roy Goodman (conductor).
    • Hyperion, CDS44381/3.
  • Tennyson

    Extract from The Lady of Shalott read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00


    Extract from The Lady of Shalott, The Funeral Cortege and The Entry of Lancelot

    Performer: BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Arthur Bliss (conductor).
    • Carlton Classics, 1565691842.
  • 00:00

    Florence Welch and Isabel Summers

    The Dog Days Are Over

    Performer: Florence Welch (vocals), Robert Ackroyd (guitar), Tom Monger (harp).
    • Universal, 2718884.
  • Christina Rossetti

    Extract from The Convent Threshold read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00

    Felix Mendelssohn

    Lift Thine Eyes from Elijah

    Performer: Renee Fleming (soprano), Libby Crabtree (soprano), Patricia Bardon (mezzo soprano), Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Paul Daniel (conductor).
    • Decca, 4556882.
  • Keats

    La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad read by Jamie Glover

  • 00:00


    Caprice pour violin, Andante

    Performer: Marco Rogliano (violin).
    • Accord, 202862.
  • 00:00


    Italiana for Lute

    Performer: Paul O’Dette.
    • Helios, CDH55146.
  • Dante Alighieri translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

    Extract from La Vita Nuova read by Jamie Glover

  • 00:00

    Claude Debussy

    Extract from La Damoiselle Elue

    Performer: London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Claudio Abbado (conductor).
    • DG, 423103-2.
  • 00:00

    Modest Mussorgsky

    Pictures from an exhibition for piano; Limoges (Le marche)

    Performer: Mikhail Pletnev (piano).
    • Virgin, VC791169-2261 231.
  • Charles Dickens

    Extract from a review in Household Words of Millais’ Painting ‘Christ in the House of his Parents’ read by Jamie Glover

  • 00:00

    Igor Stravinsky

    Extract from The Rite of Spring, Part 1 (Adoration of the Earth)

    Performer: Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel (conductor).
    • DG, 4778775.
  • Sappho translated by Stanley Lombardo

    Fragment 16 read by Skye Hallam

  • Algernon Charles Swinburne

    Extract from Sapphics read by Jamie Glover

  • 00:00

    Claude Debussy

    Extract from Nocturnes for orchestra, no.3; Sirenes [with female chorus]

    Performer: Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Pierre Boulez (conductor).
    • DG, 4398962.
  • 00:00


    Extract from Der Rosenkavalier: Act 3 Conclusion

    Performer: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig (mezzo soprano), Rita Stich-Randall (mezzo soprano), Philharmonia, Herbert von Karajan (conductor).
    • EMI, 5 667608 2.
  • Robert Buchanen

    Extract from The Fleshly School of Poetry from The Contemporary Review - October 1871 read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00

    Imogen Holst

    The Fall Of The Leaf: Poco Adagio

    Performer: Oliver Coates (cello).
    • NMC, NMC D236.
  • Christina Rossetti

    Extract from Goblin Market read by Jamie Glover

  • 00:00


    The Rose and the Lily

    Performer: Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson with The Gift Band.
    • Topic, TSCD594.
  • Jeanette Winterson

    Extract from Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00

    Gracie Fields

    Lancashire Blues

    Performer: Gracie Fields.
    • EMI, GBAYE0901551.
  • 00:00

    Oliver Knussen

    Extract from Ophelia’s Last Dance, Op. 32

    Performer: Ryan Wigglesworth (piano).
    • NMC, NMCD178.
  • Shakespeare

    Extract from Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 4 Scene 7 read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00

    Camille Saint‐Saëns

    La mort d'Ophélie

    Performer: Isabelle Druet and Anne Le Bozec.
    • NoMadMusic, NMM038D.
  • John Updike

    Extract from Gertrude And Claudius read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:00

    Brett Dean

    String Quartet No.2 "And once I played Ophelia" First movement

    Performer: Alison Bell, Doric Quartet.
    • Chandos, CHAN 10873.
  • Elizabeth Siddal

    The Lust of the Eyes read by Jamie Glover

  • 00:01

    Felix Mendelssohn

    Lieder ohne Worte - book 2 (Op.30), no.1; Andante espressivo in E flat major

    Performer: Daniel Barenboim (piano).
  • Christina Rossetti

    In an Artist's Studio read by Skye Hallam

  • 00:01

    Kate McGarrigle


    Performer: Martha Wainwright (vocals), Kathleen Weldon, Lily Lanken, Sylvan Lanken (Backing Vocals), Erik Friedlander (cello), Tom Mennier (piano), Michael Leonhart (trumpet).
    • Warner, 9340650014042.


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