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Secrets and Discoveries

Hidden messages, secret loves and journeys of discovery in poetry, prose and music.

Secrets and Discoveries is a theme that immediately suggests not only the realms of science and investigation, but the inner world of the human heart. This edition of Words & Music takes its theme from this year’s Being Human Festival, and takes inspiration from some of the research projects involved.

We begin with the first secret, and the first discovery: in the Garden of Eden. Genesis, and the story of the Tree of Knowledge is presented in Polari, the coded patois that was utilised in the underground gay culture of 20th century Britain. Meditations on the Apple, the Tree, and the Fall of Man from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman to Haydn show the sheer range of interpretations that story has bred.

The dramatic potential of secret love is a recurring theme, from American poet Lola Ridge’s obscure Secrets to Barbara Strozzi’s secular song L’amante segreto (The Secret Lover), and the mysterious thirteenth variation of Elgar’s Enigma Variations begins a section dealing with coded expressions of affection. Each variation was named for a friend of Elgar’s, and this highly romantic movement, given only as “***” is suspected to refer to Helen Weaver, who was once engaged to the composer. Brahms’s Sextet for Strings no. 2 and Berg’s Lyric Suite both spell out the names of women with whom their composers were infatuated.

What E.M. Forster refers to as “a great unrecorded history” of LGBT+ love stories are revealed in the next section. De Profundis, the great letter Oscar Wilde wrote, ostensibly to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, during his time imprisoned in Reading Gaol, introduce a swathe of queer love letters – from Tove Jansson to Vivica Bandler, from E.M. Forster about his lover Mohammed el-Adl, from Virginia Woolf to Vita Sackville-West, and Benjamin Britten to Peter Pears. A E Housman’s Because I Liked You Better, about a doomed and possibly unrequited secret love between men and never published during Housman’s lifetime, is given in contrast to Perfume Genius’s Alan, which depicts the delicate, casual intimacy of a marriage between men today.

The link between discoveries inside the human soul and out in the wide universe begins with Alan Turing, who kept the secret of his sexuality whilst making game-changing discoveries during the second world war, is the subject of James McCarthy’s Codebreaker oratorio. Musical and written accounts of Turing’s enigmatic persona and major codebreaking discoveries give way to Thomas Hardy’s reflection on seeing an archaeopteryx fossil In A Museum, Emily Dickinson’s much-debated metaphoric treatment of the earth’s surface in The reticent volcano keeps, and to two very different takes on archaeology. Mike Pitts’ history of British archaeology resonates with eerie ancient Scandinavian music performed on a bone flute, reconstructed from an archaeological discovery made in Sweden.

Anna Meredith’s Blackfriars, a piece Meredith refuses to ascribe or reveal any meaning to, accompanies fragments of American poet Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. Colin Matthews’ completion of Holst’s The Planets, adds Pluto – the Renewer. Pluto was discovered as a planet well after Holst wrote his Planets suite, and then tragically demoted from planet status after Colin Matthews went to the effort of writing it into the suite.

This edition of Words & Music ends a journey from secrecy to discovery on a complicated note: Margaret Atwood’s Journey to the Interior expresses an uneasy desire to venture out into the undiscovered worlds of the wilderness and the self, whilst out of the multi-layered chaos of Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, a love story to rise to the surface: lovers on a park bench. Not a million miles away from the garden we started in.

"And what sort of story shall we hear? Ah, it will be a familiar story, a story that is so very, very old, and yet it is so new."

Actors: Bettrys Jones and Kingsley Ben-Adir
Producer: Caitlin Benedict

1 hour, 14 minutes

Last on

Sun 17 Nov 2019 17:30

Music Played

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

  • 00:01

    Darius Milhaud

    La Creation du Monde

    Orchestra: Orchestre national de France. Conductor: Leonard Bernstein.
    • EMI 7 47845 2.
    • Tr1.
  • The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

    The Polari Bible

  • Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

    Good Omens, read by Bettrys Jones

  • 00:05

    Joseph Haydn

    The Creation

    Orchestra: Handel and Haydn Society. Singer: Jeremy Ovenden. Conductor: Harry Christophers.
    • Coro COR16135.
    • Tr28.
  • Richard Siken

    Scheherazade, read by Kingsley Ben-Adir

  • 00:06

    John Adams

    Hallelujah Junction

    Performer: Nicolas Hodges.
    • NONESUCH 7559796992.
    • Tr4.
  • James Baldwin

    Giovanni’s Room, read by Kingsley Ben-Adir

  • Lola Ridge

    Secrets, read by Bettrys Jones

  • 00:14

    Edward Elgar

    Variations on an Original Theme (“Enigma”), Op. 36. Xiii. “***”

    Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: John Barbirolli.
    • EMI CLASSICS 7243 575100 2 8.
    • Tr15.
  • Roland Barthes

    A Lover’s Discourse: Unknowable, read by Bettrys Jones

  • 00:19

    Barbara Strozzi

    L’amante segreto (The Secret Lover)

    Performer: Peggy Belanger. Performer: Michel Angers.
    • Tr15.
  • A.S. Byatt

    Posession: A Romance, read by Bettrys Jones

  • 00:26

    Joseph Haydn

    Sextet for Strings no. 2 (Op.36) in G major, 1st movement: Allegro

    Performer: Isabelle Faust. Performer: Julia-Maria Kretz. Performer: Stefan Fehlandt. Performer: Pauline Sachse. Performer: Christoph Richter. Performer: Xenia Jankovic.
    • Tr4.
  • Christina Rossetti

    A Discovery, read by Bettrys Jones

  • 00:29

    Alban Berg

    Lyric Suite, iii. Allegro misterioso – trio estatico

    Performer: Emerson String Quartet.
    • DECCA 4788399.
    • Tr3.
  • Oscar Wilde

    De Profundis, read by Kingsley Ben-Adir

  • 00:35

    Philip Glass

    Morning Passages (The Hours)

    Performer: Michael Riesman.
    • NONESUCH 7559796932.
    • Tr2.
  • Tove Jansson

    Letter to Vivica, read by Bettrys Jones

  • E.M. Forster

    Letter to Florence, read by Kingsley Ben-Adir

  • Virginia Woolf

    Letter to Vita, read by Bettrys Jones

  • Benjamin Britten

    Letter to Peter

  • 00:37

    Benjamin Britten

    Winter Words: Before Life and After

    Singer: Peter Pears. Performer: Benjamin Britten.
    • DECCA 4259962.
    • Tr23.
  • A.E. Housman

    Because I Liked You Better, read by Kingsley Ben-Adir

  • 00:41

    Perfume Genius


    Performer: Perfume Genius.
    • MATADOR OLE-1113-1.
    • Tr13.
  • Simon Singh

    The Code Book, read by Kingsley Ben-Adir

  • 00:45

    James McCarthy

    Codebreaker: Enough & I shall meet him again

    Choir: Hertfordshire Chorus. Orchestra: BBC Concert Orchestra. Conductor: David Temple.
    • Tr6.
  • Thomas Hardy

    In A Museum, read by Kingsley Ben-Adir

  • 00:52

    Ludwig van Beethoven

    The Creatures of Prometheus (Op.43): Overture

    Orchestra: Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Conductor: Daniel Harding.
    • VIRGIN CLASSICS 54536427.
    • Tr5.
  • Emily Dickinson

    The reticent volcano keeps… read by Bettrys Jones

  • 00:53


    In the village: musical pastimes

    Performer: European Music Archaeology Project.
    • DELPHIAN DCD34181.
    • Tr3.
  • Mike Pitts

    Digging Up Britain, read by Kingsley Ben-Adir

  • Maggie Nelson

    Bluets, read by Bettrys Jones

  • 00:56

    Anna Meredith


    Performer: Anna Meredith.
    • Moshi Moshi Records MOSHILP67.
    • CD2 Tr6.
  • Robert Macfarlane

    Underland read by Kingsley Ben-Adir

  • 01:00

    Colin Matthews

    The Planets viii. Pluto – The Renewer

    Orchestra: Hallé. Conductor: Sir Mark Elder.
    • HELIOS CDH55350.
    • Tr8.
  • Margaret Atwood

    Journey to the Interior, read by Bettrys Jones

  • 01:08

    Philip Glass

    Knee Play 5 (Einstein on the Beach)

    Performer: Philip Glass Ensemble.
    • CBS MASTERWORKS M4K 38875.
    • CD4 Tr4.


  • Sun 17 Nov 2019 17:30

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