Samuel Beckett, Repetition and Modern Music: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Samuel Beckett, Repetition and Modern Music

1st Edition

By John McGrath


178 pages | 35 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Hardback: 9781472475374
pub: 2017-11-14
SAVE ~$29.00
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315607566
pub: 2017-11-13
from $27.48

FREE Standard Shipping!


Music abounds in twentieth- century Irish literature. Whether it be the "thought-tormented" music of Joyce’s "The Dead", the folk tunes and opera that resound throughout Ulysses, or the four- part threnody in Beckett’s Watt, it is clear that the influence of music on the written word in Ireland is deeply significant. Samuel Beckett arguably went further than any other writer in the incorporation of musical ideas into his work. Musical quotations inhabit his texts, and structural devices such as the da capo are metaphorically employed. Perhaps most striking is the erosion of explicit meaning in Beckett’s later prose brought about through an extensive use of repetition, influenced by his reading of Schopenhauer’s philosophy of music. Exploring this notion of "semantic fluidity", John McGrath discusses the ways in which Beckett utilised extreme repetition to create texts that operate and are received more like music. Beckett’s writing has attracted the attention of numerous contemporary composers and an investigation into how this Beckettian "musicalized fiction" has been retranslated into contemporary music forms the second half of the book. Close analyses of the Beckett- inspired music of experimental composer Morton Feldman and the structured improvisations of avantjazz guitarist Scott Fields illustrate the cross- genre appeal of Beckett to musicians, but also demonstrate how repetition operates in diverse ways. Through the examination of the pivotal role of repetition in both music and literature of the twentieth century and beyond, John McGrath’s book is a significant contribution to the field of Word and Music Studies.


"Samuel Beckett's experiments at the intersection of music and literature are among the most unique and interesting of their kind. McGrath's study contributes new elements to our understanding of Beckett's work in this area, particularly in its potential to enrich the thinking of musicians and composers. Not "just" a book on Beckett, it makes Beckett the starting point for a number of fruitful meditations on repetition, representation, improvisation, and structural experimentation in the arts. The chapters on Morton Feldman and Scott Fields are especially welcome in this regard."

Erci Prieto, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

"John McGrath’s Samuel Beckett, Repetition and Modern Music is the newest scholarly entry on this subject and a valuable addition for the critical insights it provides through meticulous analyses. The fundamental idea underlying McGrath’s research is his concept of Beckett’s semantic fluidity, a writing style that accommodates and encourages readers to bring their own ideas and perspectives into the work."

Michael Palmese, Louisiana State University, USA

"McGrath’s volume provides a valuable contribution to Beckettian scholarship and drama academics, as well as offering a new framework theorizing repetition, which may be of interest to a wide range of music scholars working in the analysis of 20th and 21st century genres from the avant-garde, minimalism, jazz, pop and hip-hop."

Monica Esslin-Peard, University of Liverpool, UK

"…John McGrath packs a great deal into a seemingly narrowly framed monograph…his analysis of repetition in the prose works of late Beckett shift into tight and revealing focus when he looks at the data…McGrath’s book is salutary in flagging the deliberately jarring tactics of the avant garde, and getting the reader to grasp what remains permanently uncanny about our pleasure in Beckett and Feldman’s exploration of both the playful humour and subtle queasiness to be found within their repetitive forms."

Drew Daniel, The Wire

Table of Contents

1. Music and Literature 2. Repetition in Music and Literature 3. Musico-literary Interaction in Modern Ireland and the Musical Aesthetic of Samuel Beckett 4. Beckett’s Semantic Fluidity: Repetition in the Later Work 5. Beckett and Feldman: Time, Repetition and the Liminal Space 6. Improvising Beckett: Chance, Silence and Repetition

About the Author

John McGrath is a lecturer in Music at University of Surrey. He works in many styles of music including improvisation, noise, blues, avantfolk, scratch, rockabilly and avantrock and has collaborated on various performance, TV and art projects. His solo fingerstyle compositions have been featured in The Wire magazine and on numerous international radio stations. John is a lecturer at ICMP, having previously taught at University of Liverpool and LIPA.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / General