An evening with Beckett and Beethoven

“You’re on Earth. There’s no cure for that.”

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Just two of his quotes. He’s far better known for his “Waiting for Godot”. If you’ve read it, or watched a performance, you know his perception of life on earth is rather bleak. The only available cure is death. Sure: the play contains black comedy and gallows humour, but the overall impression is not rosy, cosy, cheerful.

Because “Waiting for Godot” is so well-known, Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett’s poetry and his other works are often forgotten. Even though Beckett wrote both in French and English – so might appeal to a larger audience than the average poet and play-write. On the other hand: his avant-garde works are not exactly accessible. (Scroll down for a few examples.)

The sheer bulk of his poetry may also put teachers, students, the rest of us off. While browsing Beckett’s works available in a local library, I came across two hefty tomes, each over 5 cm thick and covering a decade of selected poems per tome. Beckett’s poetic output is far larger. Yet “Waiting for Godot” was the only work I was familiar with.

This recital of a few of Beckett’s English poems righted things. The selected works were even bleaker than “Godot”. A few shared the same humour, but they were full of death, decay, skulls, ghosts, and worse. This evening took place over a week before Halloween, but certainly captured its oppressive, scary mood.

The theatre which hosted the recital, was completely booked; no empty seat left. These once-a-month literary events have become extremely popular. Like a few of my friends, I now reserve tickets months in advance to ensure I have a seat.

One of the regular performers, actor Alexander Oliver, read Beckett’s poems and started the evening with an adaptation of “Ghost Trio”. The other poems he recited included Vulture, Gnome, Something There, Alba, Cascando, Echo’s Bones and similar ones. At times, they really gave me the creeps and certainly reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe‘s works.

Fortunately, the hour-long performance was not all horripilation and horror. Members of the New European Ensemble performed Beethoven’s piano trio opus 70 1 (known as “Ghost”). Apparently, Beckett was inspired by Beethoven’s music. The NEUE also played works by Robert Schumann, Bach, Shostakovich, and Chopin. The Beethoven trio, Chopin’s Nocturne and the other works were excellently performed and also perfectly “in tune” with the recited poems.

After an hour of Beckett, Beethoven and other composers, the whole theatre filed into next-door’s bar. No better cure against ghosts and skulls, than a stiff drink in good company! It also gave public, musicians, actor and theatre staff a chance to mingle and exchange ideas and impressions. Beckett may have claimed that “habit is a great deadener” – these monthly literary evenings are an excellent mix of music and literature: attending them is a habit which certainly does not deaden the soul!

The Hague’s Theatre Branoul November literary evening will be a recital in Dutch and includes excerpts from Baruch Spinoza’s letters. The next English literary evening takes place in December and has a work by Alfred Tennyson as its theme. Tickets can be reserved through the NEUE website.

Spend the years of learning squandering
Courage for the years of wandering
Through a world politely turning
From the loutishness of learning.

The Vulture
dragging his hinger through the sky
of my skull shell of sky and earth

strooping to the prone who must
soon take up their life and walk

mocked by a tissue that may not serve
till hunger earth and sky be offal

Echo’s Bones
Asylum under my tread all this day
their muffled revels as the flesh falls
breaking without fear or favour wind
the gantelope of sense and nonsense run
taken by the maggots for what they are

Youtube Beethoven “Ghost” piano trio


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