One really should not 'put music to' the texts of Samuel Beckett. For many reasons. The most obvious is that there is so much music in his texts already. One risks - or is not able to avoid - to destroy, to drown out the peculiar kind of music which is in his poems, novels and plays. It seems to be rude to interfere with the music of word connections, rhythms, moments of contemplation and short cuts. Since this is so precisely formed by the author more music means underlying, accentuating, stretching, pointing out, moving to and fro, up and down. And are you going to move WITH or AGAINST.
Another very weighty reason to stay away from the texts of this author is their immense asceticim, even if it is a particular kind of asceticism which contains both wildness and humour. However - perhaps a temptation to approach this highly personal universe exactly lies in the impossibility of the situation. Thus is was to me, at least.
Since I met Beckett's art for the first time, ('Endgame' at the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen in the beginning of the sixties), it has constantly, to me, been a source of challenge, encouragement and comfort. If you are very fond of something, you want to be near to it. I have tried to come nearer to it by 'putting to music', with the knowledge about the disasters (accidents?) I might cause.
My first attempt is called 'Je ne tairai jamais. Jamais' (1966). A chorus repeats the title, nothing is added, a reciter quotes a few short passages from the novel 'The Unnamable' and a small instrumental ensemble (among other things containing police whistle, car horn, 2 trombones but also mandolin, oboe, bassoon, viola and double-bass) is creating a surrounding landscape. The chorus only occasionally sounds like one imagines a chorus should sound. Predominantly the chorus sound worn out or totally tired. As if you imagine an asylum trying to do choral singing. If you pardon this coarse expression.
The instrumental 'landscape' is madly grotesque with a gradual slow passing into an ash-grey scenery. Nearly silence, nearly nothing. I am very fond of the word 'ash-grey' in this connection. It was also a key-word during my work with 'Trois Poêmes de Samuel Beckett' (1989) - my most recent work to Beckett texts.
I wanted to avoid word-to-word-interpretation and aimed instead at a distinctly monotonous, low-voiced 'ash-grey' common sound for all the three poems. However, the sound became darker and heavier than intended.
In Beckett's novels there are always these voices. And the question: Who are talking, who are listening. One hears strongly personal statements, but they are formalized, abstracted, discussed. The subject is divided into several voices.
In the poems there is one voice talking. Yet with background in the above I saw a tempting solution in scoring the poems for a consistently accomplished, massive chorus sound. A strongly dissonating 13-part arrangement was used for all the three poems.
In neglecting my anxieties as described in the beginning of this little comment I follow the author's audacity! But I hope it will be clear that it's done with utter humbleness.