Beckett’s Meditations on Music


The Letters of Samuel Beckett contain a fair amount of Beckett’s reflections on musical performances, and critic Alex Ross notes several of them on his New Yorker blog:

beckett-letters-thIn this week’s issue of the magazine, I write about Katie Mitchell’s theater piece “One Evening,” an intermingling of Schubert’s song-cycle “Winterreise” and texts by Samuel Beckett. When I cite Beckett on the topic of Schubert’s “rigid economy of application,” I am quoting from the first volume of “The Letters of Samuel Beckett,” which contains many lively musical observations. In 1931, Beckett heard the Unity String Quartet play Schubert’s String Quintet and Beethoven’s Quartet Opus 127. The Schubert he loved, but Beethoven, surprisingly, moved him not. “I feel that Beethoven’s Quartets are a waste of time,” he wrote. “His pigheaded refusal to make the most of a rather pettyfogging convention annoys me. He needed a piano or an orchestra.”

Three years later, Beckett heard the great Busch Quartet play Beethoven’s Quartet Opus 130, and had a quite different reaction: “Although it is only his penultimate quartet [in fact, his third-to-last] it has as its finale the last composition we have from his hand, an incomparably beautiful Allegro. But it is the Cavatina that immediately precedes that Allegro that made the greatest impression on me. A movement which in calm finality and intensity goes beyond anything I have ever heard by the venerable Ludwig.”

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