Saturday, 26 November 2011

Vivaldi and Beckett Brought Together

Last night, there was a storm. A chaotic rumble of branches flying about, windows and doors slamming and gusts of wind hammering my abode. Today, the wind is all but gone and a cold, greyblue silence has taken its place. One which calls for subdued reflection.

It is under these conditions that two works of art appear to me as profoundly appropriate. The first is the second movement from Antonio Vivaldi's Gloria (RV589), Et in Terra Pax. This peaceful piece of music beautifully complements a scene from Samuel Beckett's one-act, one-character play Krapp's Last Tape. A melancholy and disillusioned old man, Krapp, sits by himself listening to diary-like tapes he recorded when he was younger remembering episodes with joy, but also regret. The scene included here is one of those episodes.

My suggested method for reading this is allowing Et in Terra Pax to run in the background while reading the scene. If you would like to read Beckett's complete play, you can find it here.



--Back on the year that is gone, with what I hope is perhaps a glint of the old eye to come, there is of course the house on the canal where mother lay a-dying, in the late autumn, after her long viduity (Krapp gives a start), and the--(Krapp switches off, winds back tape a little, bends his ear closer to the machine, switches on)--a-dying, after her long viduity, and the--

Krapp switches off, raises his head, stares blankly before him. His lips move in the syllables of "viduity." No sound. He gets up, goes back stage into darkness, comes back with an enormous dictionary, lays it on table, sits down and looks up the word.


(reading from dictionary). State--or condition of being--or remaining--a widow--or widower. (Looks up. Puzzled.) Being--or remaining? . . . (Pause. He peers again at dictionary. Reading.) "Deep weeds of viduity" . . . Also of an animal, especially a bird . . . the vidua or weaver bird . . . Black plumage of male . . . (He looks up. With relish.) The vidualbird!

Pause. He closes dictionary, switches on, resumes listening posture.


--bench by the weir from where I could see her window. There I sat, in the biting wind, wishing she were gone. (Pause.) Hardly a soul, just a few regulars, nursemaids, infants, old men, dogs. I got to know them quite well--oh by appearance of course I mean! One dark young beauty I recall particularly, all white and starch, incomparable bosom, with a big black hooded perambulator, most funereal thing. Whenever I looked in her direction she had her eyes on me. And yet when I was bold enough to speak to her--not having been introduced--she threatened to call a policeman. As if I had designs on her virtue! (Laugh. Pause.) The face she had! The eyes! Like . . . (hesitates) . . . chrysolite! (Pause.) Ah well . . . (Pause.) I was there when--(Krapp switches off, broods, switches on again)--the blind went down, one of those dirty brown roller affairs, throwing a ball for a little white dog, as chance would have it. I happened to look up and there it was. All over and done with, at last. I sat on for a few moments with the ball in my hand and the dog yelping and pawing at me. (Pause.) Moments. Her moments, my moments. (Pause.) The dog's moments. (Pause.) In the end I held it out to him and he took it in his mouth, gently, gently. A small, old, black, hard, solid rubber ball. (Pause.) I shall feel it, in my hand, until my dying day. (Pause.) I might have kept it. (Pause.) But I gave it to the dog.



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