Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Claude Debussy

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“Even though he grew up in France being a painter was more accepted than being a composer. His father thought that he would become a sailor. He had all the tools for a painter but he was said to have, having a musical ear, but of Debussy it could be said that he had the finest ‘musical eye’ of any composer” (Brown).

Claude Debussy is one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century, loved by many people of different musical tastes. From his early childhood many people recognized his love of music, knowing that he was ready and willing to be a successful musician. Making people love and appreciate the deeper side of music was one of his personal goal; but not the only goal. Due to Claude’s determination, passion, rebelliousness, and sufferings, he changed the way many people approach music today.

Achille-Claude Debussy was born in St. Germain-en-Laye, on August 22, 1862. He remained silent throughout his childhood, maintaining a level of secrecy that no one could understand. Many believe that he was ashamed of his background, but no one has solid evidence. He wasn’t baptized into the church until 1864, leaving room for some speculation. “Out of the mystery have arisen vague questionings and inferences as to Debussy’s parentage, for which no sensible basis can be found” (Thompson).

It wasn’t until he reached the age of seven when he began taking piano lessons from Cerrutti, “who regarded him as nothing out of the ordinary” (Brown). Claude was regarded by many of his peers as an awkward and clumsy boy with a short, fat appearance reinforced by fat little fingers. He was even noted to be a shy and sociable outcast (Brown). He gave music his all, he never felt satisfied with his music. He wanted to be the best but he could not figure out why he was struggling. For the nest three years he studied music with Lavignac, making Claude into a better overall musician. “Lavignac could see Debussy’s talent and his individuality and inquisitive sense of invention.” He liked to do things his way, Lavignac admired Debussy’s intelligence and that helped him reassure the young man (Brown). He was determined to accomplish anything that he set his mind out to do. Many people said that he would struggle to become a great composer, but Claude knew otherwise. “He felt closer to painters and poets that to other musicians” (Gilbert). He liked to show up people who did not believe in him. For Claude, it was a way of expressing his true talents; no one can stop a determined mind when they are hard at work. “Time and time again he would amaze his fellow pupils and disconcert his teachers with improvisations that utilized progressions and harmonies outlawed by the textbooks. However, eventually even such diehard academicians as Marmontel and Durand were won over to Debussy because of his outstanding talent (Hutchinson Encyclopedia).

Claude was always willing to give a 110% into what he composed and into his performances. He disliked being second to anyone and not producing the best material made him feel worthless and confused. His attitude toward the piano was mixed because he couldn’t play all that well, producing mediocre music troubled him. “Debussy wasn’t familiar with the piano, he just liked music” (Brown). He loved the feeling of accomplishing a work that challenged him, making use of his many different talents made him feel accomplished.

Claude was a very passionate man when it came to his music, and the women in his life, being around both made him feel calm and secure. In his music he wanted to present a feeling of unity, a feeling that they are one with each other, “he wants a more personal relationship with his audience so they can understand the hidden meaning behind the music” (Gray). To be on the same plane, Claude felt that the audience could experience more than just music. He wanted the audience to listen to the melody and picture a beautiful place with someone they truly loved and cared about, presenting a vivid picture for them to feel one with their lover. “It’s purpose is not to evoke a definite picture, but to suggest the mood or emotion which the particular image in question aroused in the artist’s mind” (Gray). Though his intent was to force a mental image through the music, his emotions would normally kick in and guide the audience through their day dream, not intending to take control of the situation. “But he never relaxed for it the perfect command over his emotions; and when he means to excite ours, it is not by the power of feverish passionate inspiration.” Opposing his last works forced him to recreate a pleasurable experience rather than just notes (Cortot).

Many of the women that were involved in Claude’s life were extremely important because he adored them and he loved them. He wasn’t an extraordinary looking man, proving that the girls in his life were there because they loved him beyond the physical appearance. Claude was very passionate and caring when it came to the women in his life. He wrote an opera called Rodrigue et Chimene for his live-in girlfriend. “They enjoyed a happy life together at the composer’s most frustrating time – caught as he was between awareness that he was on the verge of fame, and not actually having a penny to his name” (Brown). Writing an opera or any other music composition was a big step for Claude; he needed to truly love that person before he would come out and compose something on their behalf. Although he didn’t have many love interests, he did love women in general. He loved everything about them, from the way they looked to the way they smelled. “…Debussy was the man who in that questionnaire had said that the greatest happiness was to love – not ‘to be loved’ nor merely to make love. Debussy needed to feel his own heart beat. With the new decade, however, came new love” (Brown).

Claude loved incorporating his own style, his own way of looking at things, and his own way of differentiating his music from other people. He loved to do things that would provoke a response from other people. He always liked to be the center of attention, resulting sometimes in harsh punishments. “In 1884, while attending the Paris Conservatoire, Debussy rebelliously took over class on a day that the professor was absent, and started playing all different kinds of harmonies until the superintendent stopped him (Vallas). He was a good rebel not always looking for the negative, but sometimes doing something that would spark a new idea or interest. Sometimes his rebelliousness would get him into trouble resulting in long-term conflicts even in court appearances. Debussy composed the music for an opera called Palleas. After hearing the opera a few times, was dissatisfied with the music played and the parts it was played in so he wanted to rearrange it. The poet that was directing the opera, Maeterlinck tried to press charges against him because he didn’t believe that he should be able to change anything. Maeterlinck did end up getting some things left out, and Debussy was very upset about the situation (Lockspeiser). Events like this would not faze him too bad, getting up after a heavy blow like this was hard, but it wasn’t impossible. Many times his unwillingness to go with the conformity of previous composers would get him into trouble. An opera he wrote in 1892 and finished in 1902 would cause many different discussions and even a lack of recognition by the people of Paris.

In self-defense, Debussy explained his esthetic goal: ‘I have tried to obey a law of beauty which appears to be singularly ignored in dealing with dramatic music. The characters of the drama endeavor to sing like real persons, and not in an arbitrary language on antiquated traditions. Hence, the reproach leveled at my alleged partiality for monotone declamation, in which there is no melody… To begin with this is no true. Besides, the feeling of character cannot be continually expressed in melody. Also, dramatic melody should be totally different from the melody in general… I do not pretend to have discovered anything in Palleas; but I have tried to trace a path that others may follow, broadening it with individual discoveries which will, perhaps, free dramatic music fro, the heavy yoke under which existed for so long (Hutchinson Encyclopedia).

Not conforming to the everyday life was a major aspect that he loved to live by. Producing original works was a key to his success, making people aware that he was here and that he wouldn’t let many people discourage him. Being involved in controversy was a discouraging time for him, but it made people aware of his music and question the reasons for his controversy, resulting in new people listening to his music.

In Claude’s last years he suffered many different blows that would affect the way he approached music and himself. Debussy wrote some of his finest music over the pure happiness of his daughter, Chouchou. He became very used to living an extravagant life. He loved what he did and he took all the lasting benefits of what fame had to offer (Brown). This unfortunately would not last for long, making him vulnerable to many different money situations. Contrary to his loving to live the an extravagant life, he would realize in a hurry what it meant to live the other side of the spectrum. He began to take advantage of his status, resulting in debt. “The next nine years of his life were filled with intense pain accentuated by financial problems and the worry attending the out break of World War I. His mental and physical state affected the quality of his composition” (Hutchinson Encyclopedia). Besides debt he began to worry a great deal about the start of war. He loved his country so much that he could not face

the reality of what was going on. All of his feelings and writing were poured into the love of his country. “All the compositions Debussy wrote during those tragic years were intended as a secret, fervent, tribute to the truth of France mown down by the scythe of war.” He loved his country very much and through that love he expressed his feelings through his writings (Vallas). It was a great way for him to release these feeling of hopelessness that he had been bottling up inside. Debussy knew only one thing that he could do for his country, and that was writing his feelings down. “He was keenly sensitive to the terrible disasters that were overwhelming his country.” It gave him many different opportunities to express his feelings (Vallas).

His financial problems and his country’s problems was not the only thing that had been bothering him, because he had recently been diagnosed with cancer. That by far was the greatest amount of suffering he had gone through. He was lost in a world that he knew nothing about. Surrounded by war and full of financial problems, he needed a way to escape, but he could do nothing because he had been diagnosed with cancer. His work suffered a great deal because he became very depressed and could find no energy to write. “The steady decline in the quality of Debussy’s work in the last years, although it was only the natural consequence of his self-imposed limitations, was undoubtedly accelerated and intensified by the inroads of the terrible illness from which he suffered” (Gray). What could he do but sit back while this illness ate at his body. He did however find some energy to finish the last of his Sonatas before undergoing his second and last operation. By this time Claude had become very weak and finally on March 25, 1918, he gave into cancer and passed away.

Claude Debussy had a very significant impact on the lives of many composers and lovers of music alike. He wrote many different types of music which is still regarded by many as great pieces of work. His non-stop I can do anything attitude was for certain a remarkable trait that not too many people posess. To be the best was a very big deal to him, second best did not exist. If Claude had taken the criticisms that he can’t be a good musician then surly many different outcomes in music would have taken place. We have many things to thank him for, mainly contributions to music, but for sure we can say that he gave it all he had into every piece he composed. Claude truly took to heart what he loved to do, making his music appreciated by many. If it wasn’t for people like Claude then surly our society would lack the music intuition which he so readily exerted. “The composer’s character was from the outset a mercurial mixture of the definite and the undecided: set in certain ways yet open-minded - heroic but vulnerable” (Brown).


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