10/20/06 - Young Claude Debussy

In today's excerpt - young Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Famous for the surreal beauty of such pieces as Clair de Lune and La Mer, he worked within the style commonly referred to as impressionist music—a term which he dismissed—and was not only one of the most important French composers, but was also one of the most important figures in music at the turn of the nineteenth century. His discordant originality has provided many of the basic building blocks of our music today. Growing up in modest circumstances, Debussy's talent was first spotted by his father's friend, cabaret composer Charles de Sivry:

"De Sivry decided to introduce the nine-year-old child to his mother, Mme. Maute de Fleurville, a pianist who had once studied with Chopin ... 'But he must become a musician!' she declared, and offered to give him lessons herself in preparation for the entrance examinations to the Paris Conservatoire. ...

"[At the Conservatoire] Professor Albert Lavignac ... spent long hours with the boy after class, discussing his strange questions that seemed to undermine the whole theory of music, and playing through revolutionary music with him ... Debussy loved to experiment openly with bizarre chords and unresolved tonalities; 'he used to amaze us with his weird playing,' fellow-student Gabriel Pierne later wrote. ...

"[At age twenty] Debussy began work on the composition of a cantata for the 1883 Prix de Rome competition, and continued to disrupt the Conservatoire. On one occasion, he is reported to have attempted to reproduce the sounds of buses on the piano at one of Guiraud's classes: 'What are you so shocked about?' he shouted at his embarrassed fellow-students 'Can't you listen to chords without knowing their status and destination? Where do they come from? Whither are they going? What does it matter? Listen: that's enough. If you can't make head or tail of it, go and tell Monsieur le Directeur that I am ruining your ears.' Such arrogance was a natural result of Debussy's attempts to coin a new musical language close to his deepest feelings."


Paul Holmes




Omnibus Press


Paul Holmes 1989


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