Birthday Of Claude Debussy - The Composer Who Broke All The Rules
August 22 is the 150th birthday of French composer Claude Debussy , often described as the founder of impressionism in music despite the fact that he did not consider himself to be an "impressionist" and disliked the term . He is one of the most important and influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th century , and one of the most original and forward-looking musicians of his time . 20th century music would not be what it is without his bold innovations in harmony and musical structure . He died in 1918 , and classical music was never the same .
So many great 20th century composers fell under his influence and then went on in their own directions ; Ravel, Stravisnky, Bartok , Messiaen and Boulez to name only a handful . Debussy was born into a rather ordinary middle class French family in 1862 , and showed great talent as a pianist from childhood , and entered the prestigious Paris Conservatoire , where he grew tired of the pedantic teaching of harmony and form under tradition-bound teachers . He experimented with unconventional chords which scandalized his teachers and began to compose works ,mainly for piano at first , which broke with all the traditional rules of harmony and musical form .
He escaped the early influence of Wagner , who had been a maverick in harmony and structure himself decades before , and outgrew his youthful infatuation with the titanic German master . After a brief time in Russia as a young man as musical tutor to the children of the wealthy Russian wdow Nadezhda von meck, who had been Tchaikovsky's enthusiastic patroness , he returned to France and began to write revlutionary works which broke all the academic rules of harmony ; they made use of strange parallel chords which were made up of blocks of notes which had been considered anathema for so long, and made use of the pentatonic, or five-tone scale which is so common in Asian music and folk music around the world, and the so-called whole tone scale , which consisats of the notes C,D,E, F sharp , G sharp A sharp instead of the conventional western major scale of C,D,E,F,G,A,B, C . Instead of the straightforward major and minor keys , Debussy made use of strange ambigous harmonies which tended to undermine the sense of nmusic being in any key, although he never used the outright atonality of Arnold Schoenberg and his school .
He abandoned the use of the traditional sonata allegro form which had dominated Eurpean art music since the time of Haydn and Mozart and created works which did not fall into any pre-exisitng musical structure . In his orchestral music , he used the orchestra as a vehicle for color for the sake of color and atmoisphere ; there is a kind of hazy,misty quality to much of his music . He used musical color the way painters use visual color . In addition, he became interested in the music of Asia when he heard it played by asian musicians visiting France ,in particular Japan and indonesia , and this influenced his works to a considerable degree .
Debussy wrote for the piano in a way that attempted to de-emphasize the fact that it is basically a percussive instrument , and tries to make it sound soft and smooth in texture . Many of his piano works have atmospheric descriptive titles such as "The wind through the plains","What the west wind saw", "The sunken Catherdral" , "The girl with the flaxen hair ", "Footsteps on the snow", "Gardens in the rain", etc .
You may have heard some of his famous orchestral works such as "Prelude to the afternoon of a fawn", which describes the erotic dream of a faun in mythical Greece , "La Mer", or the sea, which makes you feel as you were right in the water experiencing the waves , the wind and storms , "Iberia", which evokes a day in Spain, complete with the heat , color and atomosphere of the Iberian peninsula etc . Debussy completed only one opera "Pelleas & Melisande ", based on the enigmatic play by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck about a medieval prince who meets a mysterious young beauty in the forest by chance , and makes her his wife, with ultimately tragic results .
This opera is supremely atmosperic and brooding , with little stage action . There are no conventional operatic arias , or other traditional elements of standard opera .
There are a great many recordings of Debussy's music which you can easily order over the internet at amazon.com and other websites . For his orchestral music , try the recordings of such renowned champions of his music as conductors Pierre Monteux, Charles Dutoit, Pierre Boulez and Charles Munch . And many of the world's greatest pianists have recorded his piano works .