Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Word About My Pal Claude Debussy

Claude Achille Debussy (August 22, 1862 – March 25, 1918), was the composer of impressionistic classical music.  He was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Yvelines, France. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1872-1884 and then as the 1884 Prix de Rome winner, he went to Rome from 1885-1887.

Debussy had quite a private life.  At the age of 18, he started an eight-year affair with Blanche Vasnier, who was the wife of a wealthy Parisian lawyer.  This relationship ended when he won the Prix de Rome.  When he returned to Paris in 1889, he began a rocky nine-year relationship with Gabrielle Dupont, with whom he cohabitated.  He also carried on an affair with the singer Therese Roger during the same time and was briefly engaged to Roger. He left Dupont for her friend Rosalie Texier, whom he married in 1899.  Debussy became frrustrated with her lack of musical sensitivity and intellectual limitations and started a new affair with Emma Bardac (wife of a Parisian banker) in 1904.  Debussy left Texier for Bardac and they had a child, Claude-Emma, born in 1905.  Claude-Emma died from diptheria in 1919, not long after Debussy passed away.
His planned set of six sonatas was not completed due to his death in 1918 from rectal cancer.  He died in Paris on March 25, 1918 during World War I.  The siege by the Prussian army on Paris prevented much fanfare in his funeral.  He was reburied after the war with a more fitting tribute. 

Rudolph Reti points out these features of Debussy's music which established a new concept of tonality in European music:
  1. Frequent use of long pedal points
  2. Glittering passages and webs of figurations which distract from occasional absence of harmony
  3. Frequent use of parallel chords which are 'in essence not harmonies at all, but rather 'chordal melodies', enriched unisons.'
  4. Bitonality, or at least bitonal chords
  5. 'Use of the whole-tone scale.'
  6. Unprepared modulations, 'without any harmonic bridge.'
He concludes that Debussy's achievement was the synthesis of monophonic based 'melodic tonality' with harmonies, albeit different from those of 'harmonic tonality'. (Reti, 1958)

Sources for this information are 8notes and wikipedia.  

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