Monday, April 6, 2015

#A-TO-Z CHALLENGE 2015 – LETTER “D” - CLAUDE DEBUSSY, IMPRESSIONISTIC COMPOSER


I first must apologize; this is two days late. I will be publishing my letter “E” concurrently with this, but it could not be helped. Google decided to be, well, Google, and although, I have repeatedly tried to rid myself of the 2-step verification process, I have been unable to. I also failed to place any ”safeguards” in place, i. e., using the Google Authenticator, which I much prefer, and then I went and lost my phone. My alternative was to wait five days, while Google went to the spa and dyed it's hair and got a manicure, but the hell with that noise. I found my phone finally and all is well. Anyway on to Claude.


Achille-Claude Debussy, along with Maurice Ravel were probably the most prominent figures of Impressionistic music, in the late 1800s through the early 1900s, a movement that had its beginnings in France and pretty much ran its course there, as well. Debussy himself did not like the term applied to his writing, as he felt it too restrictive and in going over the body of his work, it is understandable.


Young Claude Debussy, rockin' that Moe Howard haircut.

As a child, my very first memories are from an old 33 1/3 record my parents had, called “Ports of Call” (probably every family in that era had this record) that was recorded by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, or that “Great Violin in the Sky” as I've heard the orchestra referred to, due to the lush playing in the string sections. This record was a delight! It included such pieces as “La Valse” by Maurice Ravel, “Espańa” by Chabrier and the orchestral version of “Claire de Lune” be Debussy.


This is just a beautiful interpretation of "Claire de Lune"

Claire de Lune” was by far my most favorite piece at the time (I was about 5) with it's dreamy parallel chords, suspensions and whole tone or pentatonic scales – although I didn't know WHY I liked it so much at the time. All that I knew was that it took me to another place and that place was soft and magical. Debussy's use of the pentatonic scale and unprepared modulations which would be used to such greater effect later on, were just so much different than anything I had heard before, and by ages 4, 5, and 6, I'd heard plenty. My folks were always dragging home new vinyl because every week at the grocery store, if you spent over 25.00 for the week's groceries, you got to pick out a new classical record. Since we had to eat, we were rapidly building a good, solid classical librarly, along with all of the Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstein and Dorsey Brothers, my father bought for like .88 cents each.


Even if you don't read music, you can note how closely the notes are bunched together, as they progress downward. The result is a "harmonic melody" in Debussy's words.

Anyway, “Ports of Call” was a record you could lose yourself in, but the “Clair de Lune” was the best. Later on, in my college daze, we had the opportunity to play his “Nocturnes”, with it's rousing middle movement – some have said it was written during his “Wagner period” – and that was a great deal of fun to play. “Nuages” (“Clouds”) uses veiled harmonies and textures, with many of the closed parallel chords mentioned earlier. “Fetes” is exuberant and is the most programmatic of the three; at one point it sounds as if a caravan or a carnival is far off, and then, either the listener or the the caravan comes closer and closer still, before fading off into the distance The tempo jumps between 2 and 3 and the hemiola is just fine! “Sirènes” employs a female choir and whole tones. It is unearthly and of the heavens.


This is another gorgeous interpretion of "Nocturnes". "Fetes" really tears it up. I'm not going to post "La Mer" as it is rather long.

Probably the biggest piece of his that I have had experience of is “La Mer” (“The Sea”) and it is more in the style of a symphonic form, with the first movement theme repeating in the final and third movement, although the middle movement, “Jeux de vagues” works much less directly from the first and has more variety of color. Both Debussy and Ravel were world-class orchestrators, although Ravel is generally thought to be much better at it.

The only other experience that I have had with Debussy was when I was touring with the rock group Styx. Dennis DeYoung's father was a member of the O.S.S. during World War II and was one of the first people to make it into occupied France and Paris. He, too, was a piano player, and an artist. I have known other artists and composers (Eugene Kurtz, for one) who were members of the O.S.S who were recruited specifically for their knowledge of artworks, manuscripts, writings and other artifacts that the Nazis had stolen from the occupied countries and hoarded in Germany, or had hidden away in the occupied territory. The elder Mr. DeYoung located several manuscripts written by Chopin and Debussy and these were catalogued and returned to the owner-countries, or to their private collectors after World War II.


Dennis De Young - "Claire de Lune" and "Don't Let It End"


The beginning of the song “Don' Let It End” that the younger Mr. DeYoung wrote and dedicated to his wife is the opening of “Claire de Lune”. It is beautifully done and easy to see why he did so, given the connection with his father. Debussy is a delight to listen to and play; I'm so glad to share my impressions of him with you, today.
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