Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Debussy was the French composer, the pianist, the conductor, the critic. He has graduated from the Conservatoire de Paris (1884). He was a pupil of A. Marmontel (piano), E. Guiraud (composition). As the house pianist of Russian Maecenas N. F. von Meck – he accompanied her on travel across Europe, in 1881 and 1882 he has visited Russia. Debussy acted as the conductor (in 1913 in Moscow and Petersburg) and the pianist with execution of mainly own works, and also as the musical critic (with 1901).
Debussy is the founder of musical impressionism. In the creativity leant against the French musical traditions: music of the French harpsichordists (F. Couperin), a lyrical opera and a romance. Influence of Russian music (M. P. Mussorgsky, N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov), and also the French symbolist poetry and impressionistic painting was considerable. Debussy has embodied fleeting impressions, the thinnest shades of human emotions and natural phenomena in music.
The manifesto of musical impressionism contemporaries “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” (S. Mallarme; 1894), in which were showed characteristic for Debussy’s music unsteadiness of moods, refinement, whimsicality melody, color harmonies. One of Debussy’s the most considerable creations – an opera “Pelleas and Melisande” (on M. Maeterlinck’s drama; 1902) in which full merge of music to action is reached.
Debussy recreates essence of not clear, symbolically-foggy poetic text. Along with the general impressionist coloring, a symbolist innuendo the thin psychology, a bright emotionality in expression of feelings of heroes is inherent in this product. Echoes of this product are found out in operas of G. Puccini, B. Bartok, F. Poulenc, I. F. Stravinsky, and S. S. Prokofiev. Shine and at the same time a transparency of an orchestral palette note 3 sketches “Sea” (1905) – the largest Debussy’s symphonic composition. The composer has enriched means of musical expressiveness. He has created impressionist’s melody, different flexibility of nuances and at the same time vagueness.
In some products, like “Suite bergamasque” for a piano (1890), music to mystery of d’Annunzio, “The Martyrdom of St Sebastian” (1911) etc. – lines in neoclassicism are shown, they show Debussy’s further searches in the area of timbral paints, coloristic comparisons. Debussy has created new pianistic style (etudes, preludes). His 24 preludes for a piano (1st – 1910, 2nd – 1913), supplied with poetic names (“Delphian Dancers”, “Sounds and aromas soar in evening air”, “The Girl With Hair The Color of Flax”, etc.), create soft images, time of unreal landscapes, simulate plastic arts of dancing movements, cast poetic visions, conversations. Debussy’s creativity, one of the largest masters, of the 20th century, has made essential impact on composers of many countries.
The prelude “The Afternoon of a Faun” has been written on the basis of a poem of Stefan Mallarme in 1892. Product of Mallarme has involved the composer with bright picturesqueness and mythological beings, dreaming in a hot day about fine nymphs.
In a prelude, as well as in a poem of Mallarme, there is no developed plot, dynamical development of action. At the heart of the composition, one melodic image of “languor” lies constructed on “creeping” chromatic intonations, in essence. Almost all the time, Debussy uses for its orchestral embodiment the same specific tool timbre – a flute in the low register.
All symphonic development of a prelude is reduced to a variation of the invoice of a statement of a theme and its orchestration. Static character of development justifies character of the image.
Lines of mature style of Debussy were shown in this composition first of all in orchestration. The limiting differentiation of groups of an orchestra and parties of separate tools in groups gives the chance to combine orchestral paints and to create the thinnest nuances. Many achievements of the orchestral letter in this composition then became typical for the majority of symphonic products of Debussy.
Only after execution of “Faun” in 1894, Debussy-composer has been started talking about in wide musical circles of Paris. Isolation and certain limitation of the art environment to which Debussy belonged, and also original style of his compositions interfered with the occurrence of music of the composer on a concert platform.
Even Debussy’s such outstanding symphonic piece, as the cycle “Nocturnes” created in 1897-1899, was accepted frostily. In “Nocturnes”, Debussy’s aspiration to vitally-real artistic images was shown. For the first time, in Debussy’s symphonic creativity, have received a bright musical embodiment a live conversation (the second part of “Nocturnes” – “Festivals”) and images of the nature rich with paints (the first part – “Clouds”).
Within 1890s, Debussy worked over the unique finished opera “Pelleas and Melisande”. The composer searched for a plot close to it for a long time, and at last has stopped on a drama of Belgian writer-symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck. The plot of this piece has involved Debussy as he said that in it,”characters do not argue, and undergo a life and destiny”. The implied sense in abundance gave the chance to the composer to carry out the motto: “Music begins there, where words are powerless”.
Debussy has kept in an opera one of the basic features of many dramas of Maeterlinck – fatal hopelessness of heroes before an inevitable fatal outcome, disbelief of the person in the happiness. Debussy to a certain extent was possible to soften the hopeless-pessimistic tone of a drama, thin and reserved lyricism, sincerity and truthfulness in the musical embodiment of the present tragedy of love and jealousy.
Novelty of style of an opera is caused in many respects by that it is written on the prosaic text. Voice parts of an opera of Debussy comprise tiny nuances of colloquial French speech. Melodic development of an opera represents an expressive melodically-declamation line. A little considerable emotional lifting in a melodic line is absent even in the culmination in the drama related opera episodes. In an opera, there is a variety of scenes, in which it was possible to transfer difficult and rich scale of human experiences: a scene with a ring at a fountain in the second Act, a scene with hair of Melisande in the third, a scene at a fountain in the fourth and a scene of death of Melisande in the fifth Act.
The premiere of an opera has taken place on April, 30th, 1902. Despite magnificent execution, the opera at a present wide audience had no success. The criticism as a whole has been adjusted spitefully and has afforded sharp and rough attacks after the first performances. Only few great musicians have estimated advantages of this piece.
On October, 19th, 1899 Debussy marries Rosalie Texier. Their union will exist only five years. In 1901, his activity of the professional musical critic begins. It promoted the formation of aesthetic views of Debussy, his art criteria. His aesthetic principles and sights are extremely clear expressed in articles and Debussy’s book. A source of music he sees in the nature, “Music is so close to the nature…” “Only musicians have the privilege of coverage of poetry of night and day, the earth and the sky – reconstructions of atmosphere and a rhythm of majestic trembling of the nature”.
Strong influence on Debussy’s style has rendered creativity of the greatest Russian composers – Borodin, Balakirev and especially Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. The biggest impression was made on Debussy by shine and picturesqueness of the orchestral letter of Rimsky-Korsakov.
Though, Debussy has apprehended only separate parties of style and a method of the greatest Russian artists. Debussy was far from deeply human and philosophically-considerable plots of operas of Rimsky-Korsakov, from constant and indissoluble communication of creativity of these composers with national sources.
The beginning of the century is the highest stage in creative activity of the composer. The pieces, created by Debussy during this period, speak about new tendencies in creativity and first of all about Debussy’s withdrawal from a symbolism aesthetics. More and more the composer is involved in household scenes, musical portraits and nature pictures. Together with new themes and plots in his creativity there are also lines of new style. The certificates of it are such piano pieces, as “Evening in Grenada” (1902), “Gardens in the Rain” (1902), “The Island of Pleasure” (1904). In Debussy’s, these compositions find out strong communication with national sources of music.
Among the symphonic compositions created by Debussy these years, are allocated “The Sea” (1903-1905) and “Images” (1909) where the well-known “Iberia” enters.
Last decade in Debussy’s life is characterized with incessant creative and performing activity up to the First World War beginning. Concert trips as the conductor to Austro-Hungary have brought to the composer popularity abroad. Especially warm he was accepted in Russia in 1913. Concerts have passed in Petersburg and Moscow with the big success. Debussy’s personal contact with many Russian musicians has even more strengthened his attachment to Russian musical culture.