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Claude Debussy

Author(s): M. D. Calvocoressi
Reviewed work(s):
Source: The Musical Times, Vol. 49, No. 780 (Feb. 1, 1908), pp. 81-82
Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/904900 .
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THE

MUSICAL

TIMES.-FEBRUARY

I, 19o8.

81

the worksthat followedshould be named the not


unattractivethoughsomewhatnebulousand strange
'Proses lyriques' (1894) - a sacrifice to the
symbolic currentof the moment; the 'Chansons
FEBRUARY , 190o8.
de Bilitis' (I898), which deserve to be numbered
among the most beautifulof French songs; and
the three 'Nocturnes for Orchestra' (1899), in
which Debussy displays a sense of harmonicand
orchestralcolour finereven than in the 'Prelude 'a
CLAUDE
DEBUSSY.
l'apres-midid'un Faune.'
Claude Achille Debussy was bornat St. Germain- One may aver that,notwithstanding
thisactivity,
en-Laye, near Paris, on August 22, 1862. As a Debussy attractedverylittlepublic attentionuntil
pupil of the Paris Conservatoire he studied the year I902, when his lyric drama 'Pelleas et
the pianoforte with Marmontel, harmony with M6lisande' was produced at the Paris OperaLavignac, counterpoint and composition under Comique on April 30, I9o2. Two causes can
Massenet and Guiraud. He obtained prizes in all be found for this indifference. The revival of
those courses, and in 1884 was awarded the a genuine interest in symphonic and chamber
'Prix de Rome' for his cantata ' L'Enfant music is comparativelyrecent in France, and,
prodigue.' At that time he had composed a few generallyspeaking, one can hardly be astonished
songs and a 'Petite Suite' for pianoforteduet. that the seriousness and import of Debussy's
The works that according to the regulationshe original innovationsshould at firsthave escaped
sent fromRome to the Paris 'Institut,' were an recognition, or aroused less sympathy than
orchestral suite with pianoforte and incidental astonishment. Are not such cases common in
chorus, 'Le Printemps,'and a settingforsoprano the historyof art?
solo and female chorus of the French translation But the performanceof 'Pelleas et M6lisande'
of Rossetti's 'Blessed Damozel.' Both workswere could hardly be ignored. A premizre at the
judged 'erratic and infected with modernism': national Opera-Comique is always an important
accordinglytheywere refusedthe customarypublic event; it attractsthe public, and is commented
performance,thus sharinga similarfate to that of upon in all Parisian newspapers,a favoursparingly
Berlioz's 'Mort de Cl0opitre.'
accorded to concert novelties. Despite many
A certain number of compositionsin which the sarcastic criticisms and wholesale depreciations,
composer showed more freelyhis independentand despite the not unaccountable bewildermentof
success was not
daring spirit soon afterwardsappeared-the six the public at the firstperformance,
' Ariettesoubliees ' and ' Fetes Galantes,' to words long in coming. Many musicianswho at firststood
by Paul Verlaine,fivepoems of Charles Baudelaire, aside feeling perplexed have now admitted the
and sundryothersongs. Littleattention,however, beauty of Debussy's lyricdrama.
seems to have been drawn to Debussy until I893,
Debussy's firstcompositions for the pianoforte
when the Societe Nationale de Musique gave the are but moderatelyoriginal,except a delightful
firstperformanceof 'La Damoiselle Elue.' The 'Marche Ecossaise' (on the Earl of Ross's march)
same year Ysaye and his colleagues of the Ysaye in the form of a duet. But since I90o he has
Quartet,to whom it is dedicated,played the String writtenmanybeautifulpieces for the instrument:
quartetin G minor(Op. io), whichremainseven firstly,'Pour le piano' (Prelude, Sarabande,
now one of Debussy's best works. To that period Toccata) ; then ' Masques,' ' L'isle joyeuse,'
belongs the 'Prelude 't l'apres-midid'un Faune,' 'Estampes' (Pagodes, La Soiree dans Grenade,
an orchestral piece bearing the unmistakable Jardins sous la pluie); and 'Images' (Book I.:
stamp of the composer's personality,and offeringReflets dans l'Eau, Hommage 'a Rameau,
typical examples of the bold harmonies, delicate Mouvement; Book II.: Cloches a travers les
melodic curves, and manifoldcolour-effects
that feuilles, Et la lune descend sur le temple que
He has now finished
distinguishhis style. Its firstperformancetook fut, Poissons d'or).
place at the Concert of the Societe Nationale of some incidental music to Shakespeare's 'King
December 23, I894; the second at the Concerts Lear,' and is beginningto writea second musical
Colonne in the following October.* The work, drama on a book by Gabriel Mourey, after the
suggestedbythe eclogue of Stephane Mallarme,on French formof the legend of Tristan and Isolde.
the whole was not unfavourablyreceived: in fact Debussy has also contributedarticles on music
some criticscommended it highly,though perhaps to the Revue Blanche (1901) and the Gil Bias.
more as a pleasant freakof fantasythan as a work They affordvaluable indicationsas to his ideals in
opening untroddenpaths; and none of themseem art,and should certainlybe read byall who wish to
immediatelyto have realized its whole import.
gain a clear insightinto his music. Accordingto
Several years elapsed before Debussy was Debussy, the art of music should remainfreefrom
acknowledged as the promoterof an entirelynew intellectualstrain as well as from merelyformal
method which might be approved or not, but rhetoric: it should be contentedwith suggesting
whose significanceremained undeniable. Among emotions in the simplest, most straightforward
way. 'Music,' he says, 'is a sum of widespread
* Its first
performance in England was at the Promenade Concert,
why turn it into a speculative song?
forces:
conducted
Mr.
Wood.
Hall,
August
Queen's
20, 1904,
by
Henry J.
I preferthe fewnotes froman Egyptianshepherd's
LED. AL.T.]

Zlusica EimCs.

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The Musical Times.]

Froman

paning byJacquesBlanche: photograpked


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byCrevau.v.

CLAUDE DEBUSSY.

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[February I, 1908.

82

THE

MUSICAL

TIMES.-FEBRUARY

I,

190o8.

flute. Such a man is a part of the landscape Here is thelistof volumes issued fromthatfamous
:
and hears harmonies that your treatisesoverlook. printing-press
- 1503. Venice.
Musicians willlistenonlyto musicwrittenbyclever * Missx Petri de la Rue
* Motetti de Passione
- 1503
to
in
Nature.'
the
music
contained
never
hands,
,,
t
,,
I54.
Again, 'People have enshrinedBeethoven's ninth Misse AlexandriAgricol $
MotettiC
---I504.
of
in
a
mist
of
words
and
ponderous ? Misse de Orto
Symphony
1505,,
- I56.
epithets. But Beethoven's mind was the reverse tS
,,
Gaspar ,,
Henrici Izaac
of literary: a small book containing over two *
,,
1506.
auctorum.
Missarum diversorum
hundreddifferent
renderingsof thelast movement's
Lib. I.-,
- I5O8.
principal theme proves that a purely musical * Missarum Josquin. Lib. III.
514. Fossombrone.
intentionguided him. Therefore,no fixed rule
II.
Lib.
,,
1515Josquin.
Mouton.Lib.I. 1515should guide the creative artist: rules are **
,, Joannis
- 1515
de
Fevin
Antonii
establishedbyworksof art,and notforworksof art. * Missm
,,
- 516.
osquin. Lib. I. MissarumJ
,,
' One should seek discipline in freedom,not in * Motetti
- 1519.
de
la
II.
Lib.
Corona.
,
the precepts of a philosophy in its decline, and *
III.,,
1519
,,
IV. -1519thatis good only forthose who are weak. I write *
*
Cantus.
Bassus.
Bassus.
f
?
?
Complete.
Superius,
music only in order to serve Music as best I can,
and withoutany other intention:it is naturalthat The Museum copy of the Izaac Masses formerly
The above list
my works should incur the risk of displeasing belonged to King Henry VIII.
people who like " certain" musicand perseveringlyshows that the Museum possesses a Petrucci
stick to it alone.'
volume not enumeratedin the catalogue of the
According to the views expressed in Debussy's works in Grove's 'Dictionary of Music and
otherarticles,the principleof symphonicdevelop- Musicians' (new edn., vol. iii., p. 695). The list
ment should be excluded from the musical there given omits the 1514 reprintof Josquin's
drama as out of keeping with the uninterruptedLib. III., and does not creditthe BritishMuseum
movementand progressionthat befit the action. with possessing it or the Agricola Masses. The
The musicmustnot commentupon the drama,but facsimilegiven on the opposite page fullytestifies
become part of it, the atmospherethroughwhich to the perfectness
of Petrucci'smethod. It is from
dramatic emotion radiates. Moreover, all vocal one of the earliest books printed by the famous
parts should be writtenin strictaccordance with typographer-a Mass composed by Pierre de la
the naturalrhythmand accent of the words: thus Rue, also known as Pierchon, Pierson, Pierzon,
only can true expressionand suitable melody be and Petrus Platensis. Pierre de la Rue was a
invented.
fellowpupil of Josquin des Pres in the school of
In all the works of his maturity,Debussy has Okeghem, and a contrapuntistof almost equal
strictlyadhered to these principles,and the leading skillto thatfamouscomposer. The Museum also
of his art could not be summed up possesses a copy of the' Motteti De passione De
characteristics
betterthan in the above extractsfromhis essays. cruce De sacramento De beata virgineet huius
No one should attempt to pass final judg- modi,' printedat Venice in the same year as the
ment on compositions that have yet to undergo Mass (the motets were finishedprintingMay i o,
the testof time. But let us not forgetthat many and theDe la Rue Masses, October31, 1503). This
great artists have been ignored, sometimes even treasureis an exceedinglyfinespecimenofPetrucci's
during the greater part of their lifetime; and handiwork,printingand paper affording
delightto
moreover that all the men of genius whom the eye and touch. The precious tome is in its
posterityadmireswere freecreators,and not slaves original binding, wood sides and leather back;
of pre-establishedrules.
moreover, it is peculiar in that all the parts of
M. D. CALVOCORESSI.
which the music consistsare printedon opposite
pages, instead of, as was usuallydone, in separate
part-books. The fortunateacquisition,in I894, of
thisrare volume-the sixthprintedby the famous
THE BRITISH MUSEUM LIBRARY.
Venetian typographer-placedthe BritishMuseum
I.-PRINTED MUSIC.
collectionof Petruccison a par with the Vienna,
Berlin,and Munich libraries.
(Concludedfrom fage 18.)
of Reutlingen,
Erhart Oeglin, the music-printer
In consideringmusical publications printed in is representedby the 'Melopoiae sive Harmonie
foreigncountries,a commencementmay be made Tetracenticae' of Tritonius, a musical setting of
with the 'Theoricum opus armonicediscipline' of some odes of Horace, printedat Augsburgin 1507.
Gafurius,a quarto volume printed at Naples in This foliobook-the ink of whichis veryblack1480. The BritishMuseum not only possesses a has a fineillustratedtitle-pageofApollo surrounded
copy of this 15th centurytreatise,but all the works byappropriateaccessories. The ' Libro de Musica
of this pedantic priest,except the 1496 edition of Pratica' of Francisco Tovar, a Spanish musician,is
the 'Angelicumac divinumOpus Musice,' ofwhich a work(printedat Barcelona in 15 io) in whichthe
the only known copy is in the Musee Calvet at staves only are printed,the notes being writtenin
Avignon. The national collection has nothingto by hand. At Venice, in 1523, was printed the
be ashamed of in its Petruccipossessions,especially earliest collection of organ or virginalmusic in
whentherarityof these books is takenintoaccount. modernnotation: thisvolume contains Recerchari,

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