Friday, November 30, 2018

In Memoriam - Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

No. 297 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


Claude Debussy died a century ago, but his music has not grown old. Bound only lightly to the past, it floats in time. As it coalesces, bar by bar, it appears to be improvising itself into being—which is the effect Debussy wanted. After a rehearsal of his orchestral suite “Images,” he said, with satisfaction, “This has the air of not having been written down.” In a conversation with one of his former teachers, he declared, “There is no theory. You merely have to listen. Pleasure is the law.”

Save for the De Falla Hoamaje, all the works in this montage are from Debussy - though a handful of tracks are orchestrations of piano solo works by Debussy himself and others.

Two main works are featured today. La Damoiselle élue belongs to the same period of composition as the Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire, when Debussy was influenced by the music of Richard Wagner. The composer chose to distance himself from this musical influence, while remaining faithful to symbolist literature.

Fantaisie for piano and orchestra was composed between October 1889 and April 1890 but it received its first public performance only in 1919, a year after Debussy's death, in London by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Alfred Cortot as soloist. It is Debussy's only composition for piano and orchestra and, even though it is written in a three movement form, it was not composed as a Piano Concerto. This work is dedicated to the pianist René Chansarel, who had been scheduled to play the solo part for the cancelled premiere in 1890.

Debussy engineered a velvet revolution, overturning the extant order without upheaval. His influence proved to be vast, not only for successive waves of twentieth-century modernists but also in jazz, in popular song, and in Hollywood. When both the severe Pierre Boulez and the suave Duke Ellington cite you as a precursor, you have done something singular.

I think you will love this music too!

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