Reading Beckett’s The Unnamable to find out why Berio used it (apart from the obvious existential theme) in his Sinfonia (the text to the famous third movement can be found here). He does quote a large chunk of the part where the artist talks about the audience. But the other parts seem to be taken from random parts of the novel, and the order in which they are taken does not correspond to the order in which they appear in the novel. Mostly Berio just seems to use them opportunistically. But, being human, I can’t help but wonder why he uses the phrases that he does. The novel is a minefield of existential phrases that can appropriated to mean whatever one wants them to mean, but one doesn’t want to believe that Berio simply shot fish in a barrel, as such. One prefers to think that he had to so some sort of active hunting for particularly apt phrases.
Osmond-Smith, in his monograph, annotates all the musical and textual references, but there is one phrase he labels as “origin unknown”. The phrase in concern is “With not even a small mountain on the horizon, a man would wonder where his kingdom ended“. “A man would wonder where his kingdom ended” does indeed appear in Beckett. The passage in context:
Decidedly this eye is hard of hearing. Noises travel, traverse walls, but may the same be said of appearances? By no means, generally speaking. But the present case is rather special. But what appearances, it is always well to try and find out what one is talking about, even at the risk of being deceived. This grey to begin with, meant to be depressing no doubt. And yet there is yellow in it, pink too apparently, it’s a nice grey, of the kind recommended as going with everything, urinous and warm. In it the eye can see, otherwise why the eye, but dimly, that’s right, no superfluous particulars, later to be controverted. A man would wonder where his kingdom ended, his eye strive to penetrate the gloom, and he crave for a stick, an arm, fingers apt to grasp and then release, at the right moment, a stone, stones, for it to come back to him, and suffer, certainly, at having neither voice nor other missile, nor limbs submissive to him, bending and unbending at the word of command, and perhaps even regret being a man, under such conditions, that is to say a head abandoned to its ancient solitary resources.
Not that that helps me to understand its inclusion any better. Sure, it’s in the general vein of confused, grey existential angst, but it also seems more referential than the other quoted portions of the monologue. That is, more than the other parts of the monologue that Berio quotes, this one actually sounds like it could mean something outside the artist’s mind. I hesitate to say that it sounds more concrete, but I do mean at least something along those lines. Or perhaps, like Beckett’s protagonist, I’m just imagining things.
The first part of the phrase is more intriguing. What kind of metaphor is that? The only literary reference Google turns up is something from Henry James’ Italian Hours. In context:
I had been looking all winter across
the Campagna at the free-flowing outline of the Alban Mount, with
its half-dozen towns shining on its purple side even as vague
sun-spots in the shadow of a cloud, and thinking it simply an
agreeable incident in the varied background of Rome. But now that
during the last few days I have been treating it as a foreground,
have been suffering St. Peter's to play the part of a small
mountain on the horizon, with the Campagna swimming mistily
through the ambiguous lights and shadows of the interval, I find
the interest as great as in the best of the by-play of Rome.
Doesn’t seem at all a likely source for Berio’s quote, much less explain why he tacked it on to the beginning of the quote from Beckett. Is he referring to some real person? With a real or metaphorical kingdom? The existential quotes seem at least to fit in the general drift of the piece, but this kingdom thing seems particularly out of place.