11 Language and/or Music as Man’s ‘Comfort’?: Beckett’s Metamedial Allegory Words and Music [2005]

in Selected Essays on Intermediality by Werner Wolf (1992–2014)
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In Beckett’s œuvre music plays an important role, which is underlined in some of his works by the fact that music and language here form plurimedial combinations. Among these works, Words and Music (1962) is unique in being the first radio play to stage music – together with words – as an audible dramatic character in its own right. This allegorical play has repeatedly been interpreted, notably with an emphasis on its intertextual and biographical references or with the aim of elucidating individual obscurities. This essay concentrates on some more general issues, in particular on the forms and functions of the interrelation between words and music as well as on the metamedial implications of their representation, as seen against the background of both traditional views of these media and Beckett’s aesthetics. Surprisingly, in Words and Music the negativity which otherwise pervades Beckett’s œuvre seems, at least temporarily, to be suspended. This happens when Words joins Music in song and when these characters thus appear to become what their master, an everyman figure, wants them to be: his “comforts”. The essay includes a brief discussion of a production of the play with music by Morton Feldman and explores to what extent the apparently successful cooperation of the two media under the direction of music – as well as the tendency to musicalize verbal language observable in Words and Music as in many of Beckett’s works – can really be regarded as forming one of the rare positive elements in the bleak landscape of the Beckett universe. 


Selected Essays on Intermediality by Werner Wolf (1992–2014)

Theory and Typology, Literature-Music Relations, Transmedial Narratology, Miscellaneous Transmedial Phenomena

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