Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available


Olivia Colman and Toby Stephens on the subject of obsession, with music and readings from writers and composers wrestling with ideas that take hold of the brain.

'Obsession requires a commendable mental agility', according to Nick Hornby and this edition of Words and Music wrestles with ideas that inexorably take hold of the brain. Readers are Olivia Colman and Toby Stephens.

There is nothing more absorbing than being in the throes of love, and the more unrequited it is, the more obsessive the lover becomes - from the idée fixe of Berlioz, in his almost gothic passion for Harriet Smithson, to the hormone-fuelled obsession with the teen idol, as suffered by the young Allison Pearson.

But this passion can disintegrate into something more sinister, and so enter the stalker, courtesy of Ian McEwan and The Police, and the narcissist, taken to fantastical extreme in The Portrait of Dorian Gray.

And there are those whose minds work in a way they struggle to control - Dr Johnson may have had a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, there is the hoarder, the hypochondriac, and the keeper and interpreter of minutiae, like Nick Hornby's football obsessive.

And finally the all-absorbing, all-encompassing epic grand passion, the inability to concentrate on anything else - Ahab's quest for the white whale, and the Arthurian knight's mission to find the Holy Grail.

Music from jazz, pop, rock and classical, including Cole Porter's rather unsettling (in this context) "Night and Day", the romanticism of Schubert, Berlioz and Wagner, and the joyous piling up of insistent ostinati by Herbie Hancock.

1 hour, 14 minutes

Last on

Sun 7 Apr 2019 17:30

Music Played

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

  • Cole Porter

    Night and Day

    Singer: Ella Fitzgerald.
  • Never give all the heart

    W.B. Yeats, read by Olivia Colman

  • Sonnets For Hélène

    Pierre de Ronsard, read by Toby Stephens

  • Anatoly Nikolayevich Alexandrov

    Obsession passee Op.6 for piano: IV. Epilogue: Poco agitato - drammatico

    Performer: Hamish Milne.
  • The Memoirs of Berlioz (excerpt)

    Hector Berlioz, read by Toby Stephens

  • Hector Berlioz

    Symphonie fantastique, Op.14: IV. Marche au supplice (Allegretto non troppo)

    Orchestra: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Daniel Barenboim.
  • Federico Mompou

    6 Charmes for piano: I. Pour endormir la souffrance

    Performer: Elena Riu.
  • Sonnett VII

    William Shakespere, read by Olivia Coleman

  • Stephen Sondheim

    Losing my Mind

    Singer: Barbara Cook.
  • Enduring Love (excerpt)

    Ian Mcewan, read by Toby Stephens

  • Sting

    Every Breath You Take

    Performer: The Police.
  • Dusty Answer (excerpt)

    Rosamund Lehmann, read by Olivia Coleman

  • You'll Love Me Yet

    Robert Browning, read by Toby Stephens

  • Franz Schubert

    Die Schone Mullerin: 20. Des Baches Wiegenlied

    Singer: Dietrich Fischer‐Dieskau. Performer: Gerald Moore.
  • I think I Love You (excerpt)

    Alison Pearson, read by Olivia Coleman

  • Terry Kirkman


    Singer: David Cassidy.
  • Philip Glass

    Opening (Glassworks)

  • Fever Pitch (excerpt)

    Nick Hornby, read by Toby Stephens

  • Herbie Hancock

    Watermelon Man

  • Hector the Collector

    Shel Silverstein, read by Olivia Coleman

  • Three Men in a Boat (excerpt)

    Jerome K. Jerome, read by Toby Stephens

  • Antonio Valente

    Gallarda napolitana for keyboard

    Ensemble: Hespèrion XXI. Director: Jordi Savall.
  • The Life of Johnson (excerpt)

    James Boswell, read by Toby Stephens

  • Eugène Ysaÿe

    Sonata no.2 in A minor Op.27`2 (Obsession) for violin solo: I. Obsession (poco vivo)

    Performer: Philippe Graffin.
  • Robert Schumann

    Waldscenen Op.82 for piano: VII. Vogel als Prophet

    Performer: Varda Nishry.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (excerpt)

    Oscar Wilde, read by Olivia Coleman

  • Perfection Wasted

    John Updike, read by Toby Stephens

  • Richard Strauss

    Don Quixote Op.35

    Performer: Emanuel Feuermann. Orchestra: The Philadelphia Orchestra. Conductor: Eugene Ormandy.
  • Henri Dutilleux

    Metaboles for orchestra

    Orchestra: Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse. Conductor: Michel Plasson.
  • Moby Dick (excerpt)

    Herman Melville, read by Olivia Coleman

  • The Ballad of Sir Bors

    John Masefield, read by Toby Stephens

  • Richard Wagner

    Parsifal: Finale.

    Choir: Chorus of the Welsh National Opera. Orchestra: Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera. Conductor: Reginald Goodall.


  • Sun 7 Apr 2019 17:30

The hidden history of plant-based diets

The hidden history of plant-based diets

Forget social media influencers - the meat-free movement started with the Victorians.

Books website

Books website

Get closer to books with in-depth articles, quizzes and our picks from radio & TV.