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a production for Radio

~ Introduction ~

(A revision of my Introduction to the 1997 radio production.)

My radio experience is mainly nine years as a volunteer Classical music host for CFUV. During that activity I became specially interested in radio productions that combine music and the spoken word. Previous productions include:

1996-97 - Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, in 59 variable-length episodes, using volunteer readers. Compiled and mixed on cassette tapes. 29 episodes completed and broadcast.

1997 - Job, 50-minute production, using UVic Theatre students. Compiled on tape, mixed onto cassette, and broadcast.

2000-2002 - re-make of Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, in 21 half-hour parts, using UVic Theatre students. Digitally compiled, mixed and edited. Broadcast three times so far.

2003-2005 - Headlong Hall, dramatisation of Thomas Love Peacock’s satirical novel (1815), with background music and songs, using local actors and musicians. Broadcast twice so far.

~ ~ ~

Morning Stars

This production combines Biblical texts, some of them suggested by the inscriptions on William Blake’s Illustrations of The Book of Job (1820-26); and the music (1927-30) by Ralph Vaughan Williams for a stage dance production inspired by Blake’s Illustrations.

The Book of Job is among those writings in the Old Testament called the books of Wisdom. It was written probably about the 5th Century BC, but it tells of an already known person (real or legendary) of a far earlier period, when the economy was pastoral, Job’s wealth being in sheep and other livestock.

Scholars say it is not by a single author: Elihu’s speech, and perhaps other passages, are later additions, inconsistent in style; and some incoherencies suggest faulty transcribing as the writings were handed on.

It is an analysis of a problem, one of the most difficult for believers and would-be believers in a supreme deity: in a world of suffering, how can religious faith be justified? The problem can be briefly expressed thus: To be worthy of worship, a God must be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-just and all-loving. In the Book of Job, there is no easy answer: at the start [1:12] Job’s suffering is specifically permitted by God; and at the end [42:11] Job’s relatives and friends console him for the evil that God has brought on him. The analysis is conducted through a series of arguments: Satan argues with God; Job argues with his wife; Job argues with his three comforters; Elihu argues with Job; God argues with Job.

(Some religious philosophers consider that we can neither “prove” nor “disprove” the existence of God. We either have faith, or we do not.)

It is a collection of mysteries: Where does Satan (the Accuser, not to be confused with our conventional Satan, the Devil) come from, and why is he evasive when God puts that question to him? Besides, would not God already know? Why does God draw Job to Satan’s attention, as though inviting Satan’s challenge? How is it conceivable that Satan could incite the Almighty to ruin Job without cause [2:3]? What is the relationship between God and Satan? - Satan and Job? - God and Job? - Job and his three comforters? What is lacking in Job’s piety?

The Book of Job follows a poetic style: as in various other biblical writings, time and again it uses parallelisms, with ideas expressed several ways, and employing strong images, with vivid effect: for example, ‘From going to and fro on the Earth, and from walking up and down in it.’ Sometimes a phrase is echoed later: for example, ‘Amid thoughts from Visions of the Night ...’

Anton Dolin
Anton Dolin as Satan

William Blake put into his Job illustrations many scriptural excerpts: mostly from the Book of Job; but also some, which Blake must have considered particularly significant, from other Old Testament books, and from Paul’s Letters in the New Testament.

Blake’s God is old, and looks like Job. Elihu is young, but so is Blake’s Satan; the difference between these two is that his Elihu is serene; whereas his Satan, in all four of Blake’s representations, conveys an impression of feverish energy. Come Dance with Me, memoirs by Ninette de Valois (choreographer of Job), includes a photo of Anton Dolin, Satan in the first production, with a rather Pan-like appearance, closer to Blake’s style than the conventional image with horns and a trident.

In The Human Face of God - William Blake and the Book of Job, Kathleen Raine arrives at her views of Blake’s interpretations by examining his twenty-one plates - the style and contents of his graphic images, and also his selection of texts for the inscriptions - and by looking at other indications, in his earlier writings, of his distinctive religious beliefs. I will not try to summarize her views; but I have largely followed my understanding of them in selecting texts to use - and hence some impression of her ideas may be apparent.

Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote his music for a special kind of stage production wherein the dancers would mainly use gesture and mime - hence the subtitle Masque, with its suggestion of allegory. Correspondingly, the dance-forms are from a period when the masque was an important stage entertainment: Sarabande, Minuet, Galliard, Pavane, each with its own style and mood. The result is a distinctive musical style, and I have let it influence my selection of texts, and I believe it influences the way the texts are read.

The plot of Vaughan Williams’s Masque varies from the Book of Job, and also from Blake’s Illustrations. God’s response to Job (not being translatable into mime and gesture) has been replaced by God’s banishing Satan from Heaven. The destruction of Job’s children is portrayed on the stage, whereas in the Bible account Job learns of the disaster from a messenger. New is the scene where Satan occupies God’s throne (which on the stage must be a striking image).

The Letter kills. But the Spirit gives Life’ [2 Cor 3:6]. Blake quotes this in Plate 1. This is the essence of the argument made later by Elihu, who stands for wisdom derived not from experience but from inspiration.

In the original 1997 production, with four male and three female readers, I chose a male for Satan, and divided up the remaining text between two rotations, one female, one male, each of three voices, and shifting between female and male according to whether Spirit or Letter seemed dominant, or more randomly where that quality seemed neutral.

In this re-make of the Job production I employ distinctive voices for narrative from the Book of Job; excerpts from other parts of the Bible; the describing of Blake’s plates; scene synopses from the Masque and scene descriptions; and for each character (except that some characters’ parts are so small that some readers might as well look after more than one role).

A listener to my Berlioz Memoirs radio series particularly liked the interweaving between the music and the spoken word. The music in that series was mainly by Berlioz; works by other composers who had some sort of connection with Berlioz were also represented. Sometimes the music used has a literal connection with the text (as when Berlioz describes Mendelssohn performing for him Fingal’s Cave on the piano). More often the connection is indirect and suggested.

In Job there is one composer, one musical work, and a literal connection with the subject. The text has various distinct sources, and there is some interweaving among those sources, additional to the interweaving between music and spoken word.

For what it is worth, here is my tentative solution to the mystery of the Book of Job, as presented in this production: (And that sentence is as far as I have got with that subject.)

Ninette de Valois
Ninette de Valois

~ Casting ~

I am used to cross-gender casting, and have allowed for the possibility that most of the available voices may be female. I have marked the roles F/m, for female preferred, male acceptable; or M/f for the reverse.

These two voices should be distinctly different from each other:
Plate - [F/m] Descriptions of scenes in Blake’s plates
Scene - [F/m] Scene synopses for the Masque; and descriptions of scenes on stage

The next three voices should be distinctly different from one another:
BkJ - [M/f] - Narrative from The Book of Job
OT - [F/m] - Other Old Testament excerpts (referenced in the plates)
NT - [F/m] - New Testament excerpts (referenced in the plates)

God - [F/m]

Satan - [F/m] - the Accuser, or Adversary. Like a cross-examining lawyer.

Job - [M/f]

The Messenger voices should preferably be distinctly different from one another:
First Messenger - [F/m]
Second Messenger - [F/m]
Third Messenger - [M/f]
Fourth Messenger - [F/m]

Job’s friends:
Eliphaz the Temanite - [M/f] - (agèd, experienced)
Bildad the Shuhite - [F/m] - (younger, excitable)
Zophar the Naamathite - [M/f] - (learnèd, wordy)

Elihu son of Barachel - [F/m] - the youthful intercessor

~ Music ~

Job - A Masque for Dancing by Ralph Vaughan Williams

1995 Naxos recording by the English Northern Philharmonia, conductor David Lloyd-Jones

References for this interpretation

Kathleen Raine: The Human Face of God - William Blake and the Book of Job

also programme notes for the 1984 EMI and 1995 Naxos recordings

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1st January 2011