Thursday, March 31, 2011


Claude Debussy (b. St Germain-en-Laye, 1862; d. Paris, 1918) was one of the greatest composers of all time, but also one who knew the piano intimately. His piano music exploits the beauty and potential of the instrument in a way that only a pianist could. Indeed, Debussy's first music instruction was in the form of piano lessons from, of all people, the mother-in-law of the renowned French poet Paul Verlaine. This connection led to his entry into the Paris Conservatoire in 1873. While in his twenties, he spent a couple of years in Rome where he met Liszt, Verdi and Boito, and heard Wagner's Lohengrin. In 1988 and 1989, he even attended the Bayreuth Festival where Wagner's mammoth four opera "Ring" cycle is performed each year to this day. Another influence on his future style was that of hearing the Javanese gamelan (orchestra), with its assortment of gongs, chimes, marimbas and drums, at the Paris Exposition of 1889. Debussy also became associated with the group of painters, writers and poets who were later to be called "impressionists". In many ways, the term impressionism suited the art. In painting, the blurred images of Mon_t suggested the subject rather than trying to portray it realistically. In Debussy's music, there are many examples of the impressionist tendency to portray nature in an almost dream-like manner. La cath_dral engloutie is a good example. It paints a picture in sound of the legendary ruins of a French cathedral now submerged beneath water, and the fleeting glimpses of its outlines seen from the surface of the lake. Debussy's music sounds even more mysterious and exotic by his use of the whole tone scale (rather than major or minor) and chord intervals of fifths and octaves.

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