John S Beckett cover

John S. Beckett

The Man and the Music

By: Charles Gannon

Publication Date: 20 Jun 2016


Remembered in his native Ireland primarily as a harpsichordist and interpreter of Bach’s music, and in the UK as a conductor of the ground-shaking early music group Musica Reservata, John S. Beckett also composed avant-garde incidental music, performed on several instruments and was an authoritative, if controversial, conductor. Music was not his only passion: he was interested in films, the theatre, art and pottery, and loved to travel. His varied career included devising music programmes for Radio Éireann, writing for The Bell  magazine, working in Dublin’s Pike Theatre, presenting and performing for the BBC Third Programme, composing music for his famous cousin Samuel Beckett, founding Musica Reservata, conducting Bach cantata concerts in Dublin over a ten-year period, and working as a producer and presenter for BBC Radio 3.

Despite his reputation as a gruff, confrontational individual with a fondness for Guinness, whiskey and garlic, he made many friends and was familiar with Dublin’s intellectual, musical and bohemian milieu, such as the writers Aidan Higgins, Anthony Cronin, Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and James Plunkett, composers E.J. Moeran and Frederick May, counter-tenor Alfred Deller, musician John O’Sullivan, Desmond MacNamara, Ralph Cusack, singer and sculptor Werner Schürmann, publisher John Calder and journalist David Cairns.

Complex, self-deprecating and private, the character of John S. Beckett and his achievements are examined with detail garnered from information both published and in archival collections in Ireland and the UK. Recollections from those who knew him at different stages of his life enliven this fascinating biography.

The book also examines the development of Musica Reservata, and contains excerpts from unpublished letters written by Samuel Beckett. Extracts from correspondence between John and James Plunkett, Aidan Higgins, Arland Ussher and music critic Charles Acton are also included.


Charles Gannon, the only son of Margaret and Cathal, was born in 1955. Educated in Belvedere College, he was a commercial artist for five years before moving to RTE to work as a sound operator, vision mixer and technical director.

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Weight 1 kg
Publication Date

20 Jun 2016



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