Samuel Beckett and Musiced. by Mary Bryden, and: Samuel Beckett and the Arts: Music, Visual Arts, and Non-Print Mediaed. by Lois Oppenheim (review)
- Comparative Drama
- Western Michigan University
- Volume 33, Number 4, Winter 1999-2000
- pp. 528-532
- View Citation
- Additional Information
528Comparative Drama persuasive by such careful attention to the perceptions of those who first commission and view the art, not as scholars, but as participants in a religious ritual ofthe streets. Although Webster's scholarship is generally impeccable, students ofmedieval theater will notice one peripheral error: Webster parenthetically equates "the origin of modern drama" with "the earliest form of liturgical drama" (145), an evolutionary theory still widely repeated despite being abandoned by specialists more than a quarter ofa century ago. But this is a very small matter and takes nothing away from the rich collection and persuasive arrangement of historical data Webster has gathered from the archives, from the value ofher insights into particular sculptures and pasos, or from the broad conclusions that she draws. Her insistence that the processional sculptures of Seville be assessed not as conventionally static images but as works of art that only find their proper interpretive context when carried (and thus mobile) in procession is as clear as it is original. This is an important book that will be required reading for anybody interested in the vast but too neglected field ofprocessional art. MAX HARRIS University of Wisconsin-Madison Samuel Beckett and Music, ed. Mary Bryden. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. xviii + 267. $75.00. Lois Oppenheim, ed. Samuel Beckett and the Arts: Music, Visual Arts, and Non-Print Media. New York: Garland, 1999. Pp. xxi + 389. $75.00. It is a welcome development in the wide network of Beckett studies that critics today feel comfortable enough with the integrity of the texts to venture far afield to search for metaphors, analogies, even parallel developments in what used to be called "the sister arts." Music, of course, would be the first place to look for such resonances, though it has been, oddly enough, the one that has received until recently the least sophisticated attention. Mary Bryden, a Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Reading in England, where she is also Joint Director of the Beckett International Foundation, has attempted to fill the gap with the timely publication ofSamuel Beckett and Music, a volume that will be ofparticular interest to academics concerned with this Irish author's attraction to both the limits and possibilities ofjust what might constitute a given genre. Beckett's biographers (and here special attention must be paid to Reviews529 James Knowlson, the author of Damned to Fame: The Life ofSamuel Beckett) have been quick to point out the musical ability and ambition of the extended Beckett family: his nephew, Edward, a professional flautist; the composer John Beckett, his cousin; his wife Suzanne, an accomplished pianist. Walter Beckett, music critic, composer, and another Beckett connection, informs us in this volume that the playwright "never missed an opportunity to listen to Bartok, whom he considered the greatest inspiration for his late creation." For recreation, if indeed in Beckett's case we can imagine anything as reckless as recreation, he would tum to the piano, to Haydn often—but also to Irish popular music , the bawdier the better. Beckett loved his Schubert and his late Beethoven , too, as is abundantly clear from the musical notation that haunts his work from beginning to end. References to composers and specific pieces of music are in Beckett's case much more than framing devices or keys to mood and atmosphere. Music is in itself a character in the radio plays Cascando and Words and Music. Maddy Rooney, née Dunne, "the big pale blur," hums the melody she hears from "Death and the Maiden"; in Happy Days Winnie sings her song, the waltz duet from The Merry Widow; Ghost Trio features the largo from Beethoven's Fifth Piano Trio, op. 70; and Nacht und Träume relies on the last seven bars of Schubert's lied by the same name (op. 43, no. 2). In Beckett music plays no secondary part; it is, rather, the essential element of every sound-sense relation this writer builds into both compelling drama and decisive prose. Using a word like "essential" is bound to raise more than a few eyebrows in the critical climate of today's academy, especially in the United States, where nothing is but what is...