Originally written as a radio play in 1961, and broadcast by the BBC the following year with music by the author's cousin John, "Words and Music" was subsequently withdrawn by Samuel Beckett
until he was invited to include it in a festival of his radio work that took eventually took place at the end of the 1980s. Having been "pleased" by Morton Feldman
's opera based on his work, Neither, Beckett
suggested the American undertake the task of providing music, which Feldman
agreed to. "He's a word man, a fantastic word man," the composer enthused, "and I always felt that I was a note man. And I think that's what brought me to him. The kind of shared longing that he has, this saturated, unending longing." Scored for two speakers (one of whom also sings), piano, percussion, two flutes, two violins, and cello, Feldman
's score is atypical in the context of his late works -- and this is one of his very last -- in that it is remarkably concise, consisting of little more than a set of tiny, exquisite haikus. These are indeed crystalline and beautiful, but one is left with the overriding impression that the words have somehow gained the upper hand here; one can imagine Beckett
's text perfectly well with other music (as was the case with its first broadcast), and arguably without music altogether, but whether Feldman
's music could stand on its own is something of a moot point.