Samuel Beckett's Radio Plays  

Music of the Absurd

by Stefan-Brook Grant

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Words and Music: Parodying the Creative Process

Music has long, perhaps always, been considered the language of emotion. This is not to say that music cannot be highly inexpressive or unemotional, but it implies that the individual properties of music do not have one graphic equivalent, such as the signifier and signified of the language of the intellect. Music, according to Schopenhauer, is not concerned with expressing the nature of the will directly and immediately. In his opinion, music stands closest to the ultimate universal imageless language of emotion. Beckett would support this view and the general idea that all art aspires to the condition of music. He claimed that

music is the idea itself, unaware of the world of phenomena, existing ideally outside the universe, apprehended not in Space but in Time only, and consequently untouched by the teleological hypothesis (Proust, p. 92).

The nature of radio obviously frees the writer from any obligation to provide a concrete visual field for the audience to perceive, thereby taking one step towards the imageless universal language. In Words and Music and Cascando, Beckett presents the different materials for artistic expression, separating the voice from the music.

Although our knowledge of ancient music is sparse we know that in the West there has always been, and that to a certain degree there still exists, a class distinction between instrumental and vocal music. In the ancient Greek, Hebrew and Christian tradition, for instance, the primacy of words - the bearers of literal meaning - was stressed and ranked above the sounds of instruments. John of the Christian Gospels claimed that: 'In the beginning was the Word,' while Plato asked: 'What can a melody and rhythm mean unless there is a text?' (Schwartz, p. 130). Yet it is still surprising that Beckett consented to a libretto version of Krapp's Last Tape, since his own view was that 'the words of a libretto are to the musical phrase that they particularise what the Vendôme Column, for example, is to the ideal perpendicular' (Proust, p. 92). The mathematical allusion here is not arbitrary, since music is, of course, constructed on mathematical and scientific principles of proportion. This realisation has itself been a cause of anguish for those who consider music to be beyond the level of rational intelligibility. If a pure appreciation of music is actually reducible to the logics of mathematics, then even here we cannot escape being haunted by a rational system.

In Words and Music, the two characters, Words and Music, are asked by Croak to express given themes: Words by means of the conceptual language of reason, and Music, of course, by the immediate and direct non-representative language of music. The three main themes are 'love', 'age' and 'the face,' but prior to this, Words warms up by practising to define the word 'sloth.' Cascando has a similar set up, with Voice, Music and Opener as its three characters. But unlike Croak, Opener only has the power to switch the two on and off as if he were a light switch, and the two perform their streams of noise detached from each other, though occasionally polyphonically superimposed. Opener has no influence on the actual expressions which the two sources emit, so he does not ask the two to illustrate any particular themes.

Beckett has been hailed for his innovative use of music as a protagonist in drama. It is, however, important to note in connection with this that music has often been used to represent a particular character in dramatic art. In Prokofiev's famous musical story for children, Peter and the Wolf (1936), the different characters and animals which the narrator refers to are illustrated by the orchestra. In silent film, music has often been used as a substitute for verbal dialogue, so that we come to associate particular types of music with particular characters. In Words and Music, we tend to view the music as a substitute for speech, but here music is not the dialogue of a tramp or a wolf or a duck. Instead Music features as a particular mode of expression, namely itself.

Words and Music has been described as a libretto or a parody of opera (Mercier, p. 153). Indeed, the humour which was largely absent in Embers is reinstated in Words and Music, relying mainly on the farcical exaggerations of theatrical expression, and the notion that Music is actually a character in its own right who engages in dialogue with Words. Beckett gives his two characters stock roles as performers so they become pure instruments for expression, rather than characters to whom we can relate to on a human level. Interestingly, it is the unhuman image and the human conduct which we find humorous. Words and Music are obliged to play their parts in the creative process which relies both on spontaneity and practice. In Cascando, on the other hand, the humour is replaced by the more familiar Beckettian obligation to 'go on.' It is interesting to note, incidentally, that Music remains Music in the latter play, whereas Words is replaced by Voice.

Various readings of what the situation in Words and Music represents have emerged from critical studies of the work, and it may be useful to consider some of these theories. Vivian Mercier suggests that the three characters are separate beings, Croak being an 'old man who shuffles in' asking Words and Music to be friends (Mercier, p. 155). Eugene Webb suggests that 'Croak is the name the dialogue directions give to the conscious self of the artist' (Webb, p.102), while John Fletcher thinks of Croak as Beckett's 'toppled Prospero . . . with Words as his Caliban and Music his Ariel.' (Fletcher, p. 76). Clas Zilliacus has yet another interpretation, suggesting that in this play, 'a mental process is unfolding,' whereby Croak 'instigates two of his faculties, at odds with each other, to provide him with solace and entertainment.' Zilliacus also offers a view of the play in the light of medieval lyric, suggesting that the 'master and servant motif familiar from other Beckett works here appears in recognisably feudal costume' (Zilliacus, pp. 105, 106). Croak may be seen as the chatelaine, while Words and Music are his ministrals. Certainly, the medieval court poets were compelled to produce what their masters wanted them to produce and, similarly, Words and Music comply with their lord's wishes.

It does not seem necessary to resolve the question as to whether Words and Music are separate faculties of Croak's mind or whether they are three separate characters, one master and two servants. Indeed, in Cascando, Opener raises this question himself, 'They say it's in his head' (p. 299). Surely what matters is that Beckett is again presenting us with an idea, not to isolate one particular reading, but to display the universal qualities of a particular situation; it is 'An image, like any other,' as Opener says (Cascando, p. 303). Beckett's earlier radio plays, as well as Endgame, have similarly been treated as plays which are set in the mind. What is evident in Words and Music is that the play is a presentation of an artistic process of expression, and that this process, because it allows for so many individual readings, takes on the universality of a formula for artistic creation.

In this respect, it is helpful to view the play in the light of its medium. Words and Music was a commissioned work from the Third Programme. Croak, therefore, can be interpreted as the commissioner of the play, while Words is Samuel Beckett's work and Music John Beckett's. The two instruments, therefore, actually originate from separate sources, and are required to rehearse and combine forces in order to achieve a satisfactory rendering of certain themes. Furthermore, the medium itself requires a balance between what the audience wants to hear, what the author wants to create, and what the instruments are capable of expressing. It is not only when Words fails that Croak silences him, but also when he begins to express material which is unacceptable to Croak.

Words and Music are dependent on Croak's giving them hints as to what should be included in their expression of the various themes. Croak's mood, however, can only be deciphered by the timbre of his voice, not by any attempt on his part to explain himself. When Croak enters, he apologises for his delay, muttering incoherently that he was detained by an image; 'The face. [Pause.] On the stairs' (p. 288). Words later draws on this when he attempts to express the 'face' which Croak asks for, as if Words has made the connection between Croak's thematic demand and the actual event which delayed Croak's arrival, and its connotations. Croak's comments after his initial mutterings are generally reduced to non-verbal groans, the thump of his club, or his emphatic 'No!' The names by which he refers to Words and Music are plain and monosyllabic; Joe and Bob respectively. When the two fail to satisfy his emotional needs, he refers to them as 'dogs.' It seems, therefore, that the actual thematic expressions which Words and Music perform are a result of their own skills and limitations, their interpretation, respectively, of three topics - love, age and the face - and their ability to connect these themes with Croak's personal associations of them. This situation naturally calls for a development by trial and error.

The structural balance between the music and the voice, as they attempt to express the given themes, only highlights the difference between the materials the author has to work with in his composition. And the relatively equal duration and similar shape of their lines draws attention to the sterility of the words themselves and the futility of verbal expression. Words' attempted definitions expose a comic reciprocal logic:

Sloth is of all the passions the most powerful passion and indeed, no passion is more powerful than the passion of sloth (p. 287).

The mere grammatical reshuffling of words has the audible shape of a circular musical phrase, where the octave is completed by a return to the initial note. For lack of original creativity on the level of meaning, Words resorts to a symmetrical sentence structure. The shape of what he is saying thus becomes more expressive of the theme than the words themselves. The farce becomes obvious. Words falters with his attempt to express old age:

Age is . . . age is when . . . old age I mean . . . if that is what my Lord means . . . is when . . . if you're a . . . man . . . were a man . . . huddled . . . nodding . . . the ingle . . . waiting- (p. 289).

The very fact that he falters gives this verbal orchestration a sense of the dithering confusion stylistically related to old age.

It seems that the process itself manages to present the theme of sloth far more convincingly than the constructions which portray the other themes in the play. Croak's thumping club is a non-rational, stylistic expression of his displeasure, and also a rhythmic device which he uses throughout the play. It becomes at times a parody of the monosyllabic themes themselves, in a kind of intermezzo of percussive monosyllabic retorts:

WORDS: [As before.] Of all these movements then who can number them and they are legion sloth is the LOVE is the most urgent and indeed by no manner of movement is the soul more urged than by this, to and-

[Violent thump of club.]


WORDS: From.

[Violent thump of club.]


MUSIC: As before.

CROAK: Love!

MUSIC: Rap of baton on stand. Soft music worthy of foregoing (p. 288).

The incidental percussive quality of the thump and monosyllables bridge the gap between the two characters' compositions. These two variations on the theme, one verbal and the other instrumental, are also sewn together by Words insisting on finishing his idiom 'to and from.' When Music later makes suggestions for the shape of Words' expressions, and Words imitates these, the balance between their phrases again allows us to perceive the incongruity.

The fact that Beckett is creating a radio play about composing music and literature to express specified themes might suggest that the shape of the play itself would be subject to the rules it portrays; that is, a compromise between dramatic and musical shape, with an aim to express a particular theme. Certainly, the play seems to follow basic guidelines for dramatic construction: the two clearly identifiable characters are introduced immediately, and the relationship between them is clear. They are rivals forced together to cooperate. Word is more reluctant to do so than Music: 'How much longer cooped up here in the dark? [With loathing.] With you!,' he says (p. 187). The basis of two different instruments or characters is thus established, together with the main theme, sloth, which is also literally presented promptly. We are therefore led to anticipate a development fuelled by the tension between two characters in opposition to some kind of climax and a resolution. This is, in fact, what we get. But the resolution is not an explanation and the climactic moment is not a turning point, so we cannot see any plot development. The first two themes, love and age, are perhaps practice runs for the build-up to an expression of the final subject, 'the face.' There is a definite climactic moment in the play when Words illustrates the image of a sexual climax, and the resolution is a gentle recapitulation of the disjuncted and forced climactic expression by Words. What is absent from the dramatic structure is an interactive verbal dialogue. Instead, the process by which Words and Music arrive at their final expressions of the lexical themes has the shape of a fugue.

The Prelude, the Fugues, the Arias and the Postlude

If we look at Words and Music as a whole, we see that Beckett includes a pre- and postlude which brackets the actual performance. Croak's shuffling slippers, like Henry's boots on the shingle in Embers, closes the prelude and opens the postlude. Initially, the two characters are tuning up, which for Music naturally implies the attempt to achieve the precise pitch. For Words, on the other hand, it involves practising definitions. Music, therefore, as opposed to Words, is able to achieve mathematical perfection. The scenario for the postlude is Words and Music engaging in a post-performance bicker, in the way two rival actors might provoke each other after a performance. It seems Words has lost his power to express himself through words and, in contrast to his initial protestations during Music's tuning session, he now implores Music to continue, as if admitting defeat. The play ends with what we might perceive to be our own natural non-rational and immediate expression of hopelessness; the word is reduced to a human sigh.

The prelude often precedes a fugue, setting the tone for the argument. Of course it is not possible to make a strict comparison between the musical fugue and the process of development in the play, since a fugue relies on particular pitch relationships. But a fugue is basically 'a type of contrapuntal composition for a given number of [...] parts.' The parts, referred to as voices of a fugue (instrumental or vocal), are entered in successive imitation of each other. The build up to what Vivian Mercier calls the two arias in the play, the finished product or expressions of each theme, can in my opinion be compared to the structure of the fugue (Mercier, p. 155).

The three themes, one by one, improve stylistically both in terms of the build up to the final product and the self-contained product itself. The first attempt may be seen as a failure to achieve any structure at all. Words delivers, in his 'orotund' voice, a dictionary definition for love, before Music is asked to illustrate the same theme. They both produce exaggerated theatrical performances, Words - pompous - and Music - first soft with great expression and then loud fortissimo, devoid of expression.

The second theme they are asked to illustrate is age. Words falters at first before Croak asks them to perform together. Music initiates the collaboration, and eventually Words reluctantly tries to sing in accordance with the suggestions from Music. A dialogue between the two characters ensues, in which Music suggests the sound and Words imitates him.


WORDS: [Trying to sing.] Age is when . . . to a man . . .

MUSIC: Improvement of the above.

WORDS: [Trying to sing this.] Age is when to a man . . .

MUSIC: Suggestion for the following.

WORDS: [Trying to sing this.] Huddled o'er . . . the ingle . . . (p. 290).

Music seems to be delicately urging Words on, nudging him onto the right track. The fugue sequence acts as a build-up towards the aria (which should perhaps be referred to as an arietta, a lighter version of the aria.) Words and Music present a 14 line poem delivered tunelessly by Words in the style of Schoenberg's 'sprechtstimme,' and softly accompanied by Music.

The final theme, face, is introduced after a long pause. This time, Music is the first to deliver his lines, but when Words begins his own rendering Music immediately attempts to impose his own suggestion, which Words now disregards coldly. When Music again attempts to air his suggestion, Words loses his temper and embarks on a frantic visual description of a 'face' in a love scene, which is what he believes Croak was alluding to when Croak asked for that particular theme. At last, Words has been given a subject with a visual dimension. Like Henry in Embers before him, and Voice in Cascando after him, Words is able to give detailed visual descriptions.

[...] eyes widen to a stare and begin to feast again [Pause.] What then is seen would have been better seen in the light of day, that is incontestable. But how often it has, in recent months, how often, at all hours, under all angles, in cloud and shine, been seen, I mean. And there is, is there not, in that clarity of silver . . . that clarity of silver . . . is there not . . . my Lord . . . [Pause.] Now and then the rye, swayed by a light wind, casts and withdraws its shadow. [Pause.]

CROAK: Groans.

WORDS: Leaving aside the features or lineaments proper, matchless severally and in their ordonnance-

CROAK: Groans.

WORDS: - flare of the black disordered hair as though spread wide on water, the brows knitted in a groove suggesting pain but simply concentration more likely all things considered on some consummate inner process, the eyes of course closed in keeping with this, the lashes . . . [Pause.] . . . the nose [Pause.] . . . nothing, a little pinched perhaps, the lips . . .

CROAK: [Anguished.] Lily! (p. 292).

Words continues for a few more lines before, resting on the static image: 'the great white rise and fall of the breasts, spreading as they mount and then subsiding to their natural . . . aperture' (p. 292). Music cuts him off with an 'irrepressible burst of spreading and subsiding music,' sets in with vain protestations from Words, and ends in musical 'triumph and conclusion' (p. 292). It is perhaps a combination of Croak's emotional involvement and of Words' failure to develop the theme which causes Croak to groan. Like Henry, Words cannot communicate what is beyond words, and so, it is Music who completes the climactic moment.

The final product is a recapitulation or an amalgamation of all three themes; love, age and the face: the universal idea of love, the act of love, Croak's present, aged physical condition and the actual face he was thinking of. The entire process, the build up to the final aria and the finale itself, has a tidy shape and a tranquil, smooth rhythm, as the words depict a universal movement towards a source. The gentleness anticipated in the recuperation process following the climax is first realised by Words' gentle probe 'my Lord,' followed by a faint thump of Croak's club, before Words resumes. Words changes to a poetic tone, and a varied repetition of the previous musical dialogue between Words and Music is performed:


WORDS: . . . [ . . . Change to poetic tone. Low.]

Then down a little way

Through the trash

To where . . . towards where . . .


MUSIC: Discreet suggestion for above.

WORDS: [Trying to sing this.]

Then down a little way

Through the trash

Towards where . . .


MUSIC: Discreet suggestion for following.

WORDS: [Trying to sing this.]

All dark no begging

No giving no words

No sense no need . . .


MUSIC: More confident suggestion for following.

WORDS: [Trying to sing this.]

Through the scum

Down a little way

To where one glimpse

Of that wellhead (p. 293).

The familiar Beckettian verbal search for the universal source which might provide a clue to the source of the Self, is here enacted. Again, it is the shape this search takes which can be portrayed. Music, who is free from such a rational quest, suggests the melody. Like Henry in Embers and Voice in Cascando, Words can only express a movement towards something. The final poem affords no rational resolution and is therefore delivered again in the style of Schoenberg's 'sprechtstimme,' half song and half speech, creating a nightmarish effect. Music softly accompanies him.

Then down a little way

Through the trash

Towards where

All dark no begging

No giving no words

No sense no need

Through the scum

Down a little way

To whence one glimpse

Of that wellhead (pp. 293-94).

This end is not a tonal closure. Words has succeeded in showing that there is no attainable ideal or source which is open to rational expression, only a movement towards it which suggests that the rational mind is destined to continue searching for the source of meaning. The simple sound of Croak's club falling and the slippers shuffling off, gives the exposure to the lack of a source a simplistic, yet sad closure, moving again to the more realistic surface.


The Interplay and Expression of Themes

The theme of sloth takes precedence over the other themes which the characters must express --love, age and face-- because it is a general comment on the Beckett being's obligation to live and, in this play, on the artist's obligation to express himself. The word sloth, of course, implies the reluctance to make an effort. The theme is introduced with comic clarity. As if quoting from a dictionary, Words practices his speech:

Sloth is of all the passions the most powerful passion and indeed no passion is more powerful than the passion of sloth. This is the mode in which the mind is most affected and indeed - [Burst of tuning. Loud, imploring.] Please! [Tuning dies away. As before.] The mode in which the mind is most affected and indeed in no mode is the mind more affected than in this (p. 287).

Words is not prepared to make the effort of deviating from the dictionary definition of the term. Our need to prescribe meaning results in linguistic clichés that are incapable of producing the emotional effect which might free the subconscious. Quoting from a dictionary requires minimal effort. Sloth, therefore, is recognised in the play as a whole, not just as a sub-theme to be exemplified by expression.

Later, the theme of love is simply inserted into this dictionary formula, underlining Word's reluctance to make an effort. The tone quality is varied this time, his voice "orotund," since Words now has a perceiver and is conscious of having to project his voice. He begins by testing Croak's reaction to see how great an effort he actually has to make. It also seems as if he is trying to sound out his audience to find out what motivation there is behind Croak's requested theme. He does not yet seem to have connected the face on the stairs which Croak mentioned with the theme of love. Indeed, the feedback he gets from Croak suggests to him that he must elaborate his expression. Words is already trying to specify the author's intention. Thus, the idea that language must try to convey meaning is clear, and Words sets out to try to find something more tangible to work with, appropriate to his own limitations.

In music, as opposed to literature, a theme is a particular fabric of notes with no direct representative significance. However, Music too, in the beginning seems to be rattling off musical clichés equivalent to Words'. His love music becomes a stock leitmotif, giving them both the same starting point, and it becomes evident that they both want to try to find the style which will please their master.

The musical performer needs notation, and it seems that Music here is composer as well as performer, just like Words, but without the possibility of rational dialogue. Words, however, must be subtle and cautious not to stab at Croak directly, because Croak seems to require their expressions to make him abandon his conscious faculty. Words' most direct question is a brave one, and it comes after a preparatory contemplation about what kind of love Croak is hinting at:

WORDS: -to wit this love what is this love that more than all the cursed deadly or any other of its great movers so moves the soul and soul what is this soul that more than by any of its great movers is by love so moved? [Clears his throat. Prosaic.] Love of woman, I mean, if that is what my Lord means.

CROAK: Alas!

WORDS: What? [Pause. Very rhetorical.] Is love the word? [Pause. Do.] Is soul the word? [Pause. Do.] Do we mean love when we say love? [Pause. Do.] Soul when we say soul?

CROAK: [Anguished.] Oh! [Pause.] Bob dear.

WORDS: Do we? [With sudden gravity.] Or don't we? (p. 289)

In this instance Words is going too far in trying to extract a rational statement from Croak, and Music can take advantage of the situation with its moving 'love and soul music.' Croak reacts positively to this by referring to the two characters as his 'balms,' yet his anguished utterance suggests the double sided nature of freeing such deep emotion. Thus, the situation provokes a new theme, age.

Katharine Worth suggests that the word slips out of Croak, and that Words picks up on it as a theme (Drakakis, p. 209). Again, Words tries to define what kind of age Croak is referring to, excited at having something tangible to work with. Indeed, it seems to me that the way Croak utters the word 'age,' suggests that the effect of the love music has provoked his mind into associating the deep emotion with his present, real situation. Whether or not Croak meant to contribute with the word cannot be certified. Instead, it seems as if Croak's mind is an illustration of how themes and the emotions they evoke are a part of the larger stream of life which happens without reason.

The added theme might be seen as an inflection which seems to act as a form of progression in the play. The play has moved on naturally to the need for something to elaborate upon what has already been established. Words does not move away from the theme of Love, but tries to combine the two. Again, the incongruity in the final expression is comic:

Age is when to a man

Huddled o'er the ingle

Shivering for the hag

To put the pan in the bed

And bring the toddy

She comes in the ashes

Who loved could not be won

Or won not loved

Or some other trouble... (p. 291)

Love has been subjected to the decay of the ageing process. The image of the ashes evolves from the comfort of the ingle, and Words gropes at a description of a scene which is gradually stagnated into 'The face in the ashes/ That old starlight/ On the earth again' (p. 291). He cannot seem to make the final connection between the image and the words, and stops with the idea of a face in the ashes. Ultimately, the play ends with a sigh.


Cascando: Moving Towards an End

As noted above, Cascando has a basic structural affinity with Words and Music. The simple outline reveals a mind, Opener, who opens and closes the never-ending stream of words on the one hand, and on the other reveals an inexhaustive source of individual musical phrases and motifs which seem to be composed in accordance with the stream of voice. In this play, Beckett is elaborating on the idea previously revealed for the unbroadcast play, Rough for Radio I (1961).

SHE: Is it true the music goes on all the time?

HE: Yes.

SHE: Without cease?

HE: Without cease.

SHE: It's unthinkable! [Pause.] And the words too? All the time too?

HE: All the time (Rough for Radio I, p. 268).

In Rough for Radio I, the voice and the music are switched on and off as if they are being broadcast simultaneously on two separate radio stations. The same idea is presented in Cascando, but here the voice and the music do not seem to derive from an external source. Instead, we can treat the two agents, Voice and Music as separate creative faculties in Opener's mind.

In Cascando, more than in his previous radio plays, Beckett is able to focus on the steady tone and tempo of voice, balancing the music with the voice so that they become two melodies in counterpoint, aesthetically organised in time into separate successive units by Opener. Opener first opens Voice, then Music, and then both of them together. Voice and Music then repeat the same functions: Voice alone, silence, music alone, silence, and then both together, this time without being prompted. It seems here as if a musical phrase is ended, so that when Opener says ' I start again,' his utterance is like the repeat sign at the end of the phrase (p. 298). Opener's structural role, therefore, is to separate and bring together the two agents. The silences between the vocal and musical accounts are long, as if echoing the foregoing sounds, thus the overall structure of the play is carefully ordered into an unhurried succession of vocal and instrumental phrases.

In connection with the non-dialogical structure of Cascando, it is perhaps interesting to note the creation-process of the play itself. Beckett first wrote out the complete part for Opener, inserting the spaces for Voice and Music, before writing out the complete part for Voice. The music was then composed separately by Marcel Mihalovici, who, of course, at that time had the text as guidance, and only then were the three parts combined and produced in the studio by Donald McWhinnie.

The word 'cascando' is a musical term equivalent to calando, but referring specifically to the end of a piece. It involves the decrease of volume and the deceleration of tempo. The shape of the narrative itself is indicative of the mind already in the process of degenerating towards an impasse. Voice alternates between talking about the story-telling itself, or the need to find the story to end all stories, and narrating the Woburn story. Opener opens, and Voice begins in mid sentence:

- story . . . if you could finish it . . . you could rest . . . not before . . . oh I know . . . the ones I've finished . . . thousands and one . . . all I ever did . . . in my life . . . with my life . . . saying to myself . . . finish this one . . . it's the right one . . . then rest . . . sleep . . . no more stories . . . no more words . . . (p. 297).

In this first fragment of narrative, Voice also introduces the story itself. The protagonist of the inner narrative, Woburn, is a man who waits for night to fall so that he can leave his shed and 'go out . . . go on . . . elsewhere' (p. 297). As the play progresses, Woburn moves through the familiar Beckettian landscape, stumbling towards the sea, where he boards his dinghy with 'no tiller . . . no thwarts . . . no oars . . . afloat,' eventually loses sight of the land and drifts indefatigably on (p. 301).

What essentially unites the action of the play, as the title itself suggests, is that all three agents - Opener, Voice and Music - are concerned with ending. Opener may be perceived as the controller, or the artist. His opening statement, 'It is the month of May . . . for me,' suggests, as critics have remarked, that it is the time for creation (p. 297). Approximately two thirds of the way into the play, he says 'Yes, correct, the month of May. You know, the reawakening' (p. 301). He repeats, a little later, 'Yes, correct, the month of May, the close of May,' but at this point he reminds us that the days are long in this month, so that their ends are always postponed (302).

It seems as if Music and Voice are narrating the same story which they both hope to bring to a closure. The duration of the individual interjections for Voice and Music correspond to each other, so that when Voice speaks for ten seconds, for instance, Music too is held for the same amount of time. Furthermore, when Voice repeats his foregoing account, Music too plays a slightly varied repeat of its previous phrase. There is a musical crescendo at the end of the play, and a gradual fade-out, which corresponds to the build-up of anticipation in Voice's documentation of Woburn's progression towards his goal and Voice's own longing for the close of the story to end all stories. With accompaniment from Music, Voice delivers his final lines,

it's the right one . . . finish . . . no more stories . . . sleep . . . we're there . . . nearly . . . just a few more . . . don't let go . . . Woburn . . . he clings on . . . come on . . . come on- (p. 304).

Woburn, the protagonist in Voice's story, is by the end of the play simply drifting further out to sea, closing in on his goal, while Voice himself seems to be gaining confidence that he has found the story to end all stories, and that this story is itself about to end. Voice's last words are familiar, however. Here, we recognise the end of The Unnamable, the end of the Bolton story in Embers, and the move towards the wellhead in Words' final poem in Words and Music.

In Cascando, the movement towards the goal psychosomatically slows itself down because the goal cannot be reached. The narrative seems to take on a staccato rhythm as Woburn stumbles and falls along the way, first 'face in the mud,' then 'face in the sand,' and eventually, 'face . . . in the stones.' When he enters the boat, he is, 'sucked out . . . then back . . . aground . . . drags free . . . out...' (pp. 298, 299, 399, 301). The movement and longing for the unreachable may perhaps be compared to the scientific urge and virtual impossibility of reaching the speed of light. The faster one moves the more energy is required, and thus, according to Einstein's theory of relativity, the more mass is gained. As more mass is gained, the metabolism of the body slows down accordingly so that all movement remains relative to energy resources and mass. The result of this is that in theory the nearer one gets to the goal, the longer it takes to reach it. In this play, the language itself becomes more and more repetitive and abstract as the storyteller grinds to a standstill, creating the same effect as the slowing down of the metabolism.

Not only does the narrative, and thus, the play itself, seem to slow down, but it also degenerates towards an abstract impression as the language becomes descriptive of a static image of the open sea, light and darkness:

lights gone . . . of the land . . . all gone . . . nearly all . . . too far . . . too late . . . of the sky . . . those . . . if you like . . . he need only turn over . . . he'd see them . . . shine on him . . . (p. 303).

The freeze-frame image which seems to flicker in the final moments of the play allows us to perceive a kind of visual closure, and the musical notation; 'calando, poco a poco, pianissimo' gives us the aural closure.

While the Woburn story gradually dissolves into an abstract image, the different agents and entities in the play begin to melt together. Voice's Woburn story becomes any story, Woburn's longing for the sea and the island become a race or a search for 'elsewhere,' and the play itself becomes what Opener refers to as 'An image, like any other' (p. 303). The fact that Woburn must wait for night to fall springs to mind later in the play when Opener reminds us that the days in May are long. Voice also reminds us that this is a 'slow' process. We suspect that Opener sees himself in Woburn. Furthermore, when Opener, whose involvement has previously seemed detached from the narrative itself, says, 'we have not much further to go. Good,' he is being brought into the action. If Voice is Opener's own mental voice, and Music is his emotional faculty, then Woburn may be the objectivation of Opener himself.

When Opener repeatedly comments on the drawing together of two worlds, '[a]s though they had linked their arms,' he is not only referring to the simultaneous presentation of Voice and Music, but also to the unification of the objectified Woburn story and the universal story to end all stories (p. 303). The end of a play is where the author must tie together the various strands. (Charles Dickens, for instance, imposed all kinds of incredible links between his characters at the end of his novels.) This kind of linking is indicated in Cascando, the endgame of a musical piece. Opener himself several times ponders on the questions as to what might be the source of the two instruments he controls:

OPENER: They said, it's his own, it's his voice, it's in his head.


VOICE: -faster . . . out . . . driving out . . . rearing . . . plunging . . . heading nowhere . . . for the island . . . then no more . . . elsewhere . . . anywhere . . . heading anywhere . . . lights-


OPENER: No resemblance.

I answered. And that . . .

MUSIC: [Brief.] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

OPENER: . . . is that mine too?

But I don't answer any more.

And they don't say anything any more.

They have quit.

Good (p. 302).

The links between the different agents in Cascando remain oblique, however. As Michael Robinson points out 'one remains with an ignorance that does not pretend to be otherwise' with Beckett's work (Robinson, p. 299). Opener tells us that 'it's my life. I live on that,' suggesting that Voice and Music are his fuel. Furthermore, his remark, 'I'm afraid to open. But I must open. So I open,' (p. 302) is familiar Beckett reasoning, echoing the Unnamable's 'you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on' (Trilogy, p. 418).

The fast pace of the voice is like the constantly running loop of the Unnamable's voice, audible when Opener turns up its volume. And yet, although the pace itself seems to indicate progression, the story loses momentum. This voice is perhaps the realisation of what Beckett calls the 'hypothetical imperative,' which incessantly runs in the minds of his protagonists (Robinson, p. 31). If we boil the text down to its most basic statement, we find the leitmotiv which Beckett seems to embrace in all his work, 'I cant go on. I must go on.' But this leading-motive is, as always, drawn out into a narrative about a search for something, and as always, the actual narration gradually becomes static.

Voice's low, panted, monotonous, rapid lyrics seem devoid of any human expression, and thus, the mechanical rap seems to be closer to a musical instrument than a human voice. The fact that the character is named Voice as opposed to Words also gives it an ethereal quality undermining the lexical aspect of the expression. Here, therefore, it is the instrumental voice, and the tone, pace and volume of the voice which is open to analysis rather than the meaning of what is being conveyed.

In this play, Beckett has not only avoided an implied visual setting altogether and deprived the two agents, Voice and Music, of any perceivable autonomous existence, but tries also to present the play as an impromptu, with no remnants of plot. Cascando, therefore, seems to be a result of the reductionism we find in Beckett's work in general, and the last in the line of gradually pruned radio plays. L. A. C. Dobrez suggests that the basic unit of Beckett's world is:

a residue that is left when all that is inessential is removed, a presence so minimal as to be nothing at all yet inescapably there, in philosophical terms, a being-nothing.

Indeed, as Clas Zilliacus points out, Beckett himself referred to the play as one of his residuums. As Beckett has gradually narrowed down his working material, his protagonists have simultaneously gradually become less tangible, beginning with Belaqua who functioned more or less as a human being in society, and resulting in the voice and ultimately the silence of the Unnamable. And yet, as Declan Kiberd points out, even Belaqua 'aspires to nothingness,' wishing 'to live his life in a "Beethoven pause"' (Kiberd, p. 455).