Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre (CROMT)

Beckett and Music

Samuel Beckett had a deep fascination with music. Several of his works incorporate canonical musical texts: Schubert's string quartet 'Death and the Maiden' in All That Fall; the same composer's Lied 'Nacht und Träume' in the TV drama of the same name; Beethoven's 'Ghost' Trio (op. 70) in the TV drama The Ghost Trio. In two of his radio plays, Words and Music and Cascando, Beckett engages directly with the problematic of music and language, and he supplied a text for the American composer Morton Feldman's opera Neither. Beckett was also interested in the philosophical aesthetics of music, in particular the writings of Schopenhauer, and critics have often noted the 'musicality' of his approach to writing and theatrical composition. Beckett's works have also inspired many composers, including Luciano Berio, Geörgy Kurtág, Philip Glass, Heinz Holliger, Michael Finnissy, Roger Marsh and Richard Barrett.

This symposium will provide an opportunity to review work that has been undertaken on Beckett and music since the publication of the 1998 collection of essays Samuel Beckett and Music edited by Mary Bryden (OUP), and to extend that conversation to consider the ways in which Beckett's engagement with music is conveyed across a range of practices and disciplines.



Thursday February 26.  Falmer 120

6pm. Registration and drinks.

6.30 Opening Address: Catherine Laws. '"Headaches Among the Overtones": Thinking Through Music in Beckett.'

7.15-8.  Musical Performances.

Ben Oliver. New work for prepared piano and electronics.

Paul Rhys. 'Not I' for solo piano. Pianist Ian Pace.

8.30 Dinner inBrighton


Friday February 27. Falmer 120


9.30am Noel Witts. 'Beckett and Schubert.'

10.15. Diana Kupfer. 'Unspeakable Sounds: Language Criticism in Musical Settings by Morton Feldman and Earl Kim.'

10.45. Kevin Ó Branagáin. 'Text and Hemi-text in Beckett's Radio 1: Richard Rijnvos's Enrichment of an Impoverished Text.'


11.15 Coffee


11.45. Katarzyna Orjzynska. 'Music and Musicality in the Soundscape of Early Beckettian Plays for the Radio.'

12.15. Maria Ristani. 'Music from Within: Samuel Beckett's Eurythmic or Arhythmic text-scores.'

12.45. Anthony Barnett. '"Only Poet, Shining Whore": Henry Crowder's settings of poems by Samuel Beckett and Nancy Cunard'.


1.15pm Lunch


2.15. Shirin Nowrousian. 'On Trajectories and Soundings of the Experience of Unspeakabilities: Neither on the Ways of its Different Spaces.'

2.45. Thomas Mansell. '"Don't imagine that ballet is music": Beckett's Symphonic Dances.'

3.15. Brynhildur Boyce. 'Reading Music Reading Words'.


3.45. Tea


4.15 Mary Bryden. 'Apertures and Overtures in Beckett.'

5. Celine Surprenant. 'Beckett, Proust and Schopenhauer.'


6.30-7.30.  Musical and Theatrical Performances.  Debating Chamber


Stefano Gervasoni. Pas si. Teatrino ambulante for two actors and accordion (1998/2008).

Directed by Nicholas Till.

Peter Copley. Music for Cascando - a radio play for two voices and music.

Tom Hall. New work for solo violin. Mifune Tsuje, violin.

Fung Lam. ‘Something There’ for two sopranos and solo instrument.


Running throughout the symposium: Hilary Mullaney "Electronic songs unspoken", an audio-visual installation.

Conference Organisers: Sara Jane Bailes, Peter Boxall, Nicholas Till