About this Recording

Chill with Debussy

‘The music I desire must be supple enough to adapt itself to the lyrical effusions of the soul and the fantasy of dreams.’ Debussy in a letter to a friend

A unique voice in classical music, Claude Debussy influenced virtually every composer in subsequent generations including Messiaen, Cage and Bartók. He continued the legacy of Chopin in his attempts to create a new musical language for the piano, and in fact conceived an entirely new rich soundscape by his use of Javanese influences (heard at the 1889 Paris Exhibition) and modal scales rather than major or minor keys. The majority of his writing was for the piano, although he also wrote a number of song settings, as well as instrumental and orchestral works and even an opera, Pelléas et Mélisande(although he once caustically remarked ‘In opera, there is always too much singing.’) His music has often been called ‘Impressionistic’ for its colourful use of whole tone scales and subtly shifting, blurred chords – the musical equivalent of paintings by Monet and Renoir, who were both contemporaries and compatriots – although Debussy himself had a huge dislike of being labelled as such.

Debussy showed an aptitude for music at an early age, entering the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 10. He abandoned his early aspirations of becoming a virtuoso pianist to concentrate on composition and quickly progressed to become one of the key figures of early 20th century Parisian society. He was often in the company of prominent poets and painters, and while he chose not to mix much with other composers, counted Erik Satie amongst his close friends. He was also known for his philandering ways, leaving his first wife Lily for the soprano Emma Bardac, leading Lily to attempt suicide (the second woman to do so as a result of being rejected by Debussy) and resulting in a huge scandal that lost him many friends. After Emma’s rich uncle disinherited her Debussy was forced to take various commissions and make regular performance trips abroad to support them both. Despite his financial insecurity, he had a lifelong penchant for fineries and often spent his money on antiquities and objets d’art, including a Chinese ornamental wooden toad named Arkel without which he claimed not to be able to compose. He continued to compose, conduct and perform virtually to the end of his life and eventually died at the age of 55 during the bombardment of Paris in March 1918, ravaged by cancer and deeply saddened by the devastation of war.

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