• Barry Guy
  • Play (1976)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Twentieth Century Ensemble of Graz with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain

  • 10100110percpfstr(
  • 22 min

Programme Note

Samuel Beckett has written several radio plays that have used aural illusion to present us with a three-dimensional world of voices that lead us from a real state into an imaginary landscape of the mind. In Cascando (on which Play is based, and not, incidentally, on Beckett's own drama of that title), the Opener gives way to a voice obsessively haunting the mind with its never ending dialogue, seemingly removed from any sense of reality, and arriving at no conclusions in its search for the character of Woburn.

This scenario, along with the structure of the play, hinted at a possible musical analogy which, put simply, divides the ensemble into the two characters (Opener and Voice) and 'Music'. The Opener, characterised by the brass and percussion, functions as a way clear for the imaginary voice to take over and continue its hopeless dialogue. Repetition in the Voice's utterances indicated a canonic treatment, which manifests itself in the strings' activities, which constantly undergo transformations of timbre, while the incessant element (Woburn) becomes increasingly the reason for a repetitive gesture which gradually permeates the canonic sequences until the image destroys the fabric of the original concept.

Music and Voice start off as separate entities, but at a certain point in the play, (Opener: - "That's not all. I open both. Listen."), they obviously conspire together to find the elusive Woburn. Music is characterised by the woodwind which undergo a similar treatment to the strings. Music is accompanied by a distant melancholic tune (piano or vibraphone) which reflects Voice's status quo - the state whereby, whatever the reason, there is the necessity to continue blindly in the search. Opener of course gives the release: - "I'm afraid to open. But I must open. So I open." - and so it goes on inevitably allowing the 'head' voice to emerge.

The Opener (brass and percussion) retains its character and proceeds along its self-ordained path - like a fallen artist who needs nevertheless to assure himself of his greatness. Fanfare-type gestures are the norm for this interpretation.

The analysis of this play gave rise to various musical possibilities that could express the multi-layered parameters that Beckett initiated in Cascando, and I conclude that in his dramatisation of human conflict there also lies a fundamental response in the writing of music. Play runs for nearly thirty minutes.

© Barry Guy