Claude Achille Debussy is a composer who lives side by side with Bach and Beethoven in my personal pantheon of greatest composers. To most American, Anglo-Saxon, and Germanic people, the culture that made a Debussy possible is so foreign, in a way so exotic, that the reaction to most of his music with a few key exceptions (who does not like "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair" or "Clair de lune") is one of incomprehension or puzzlement. Many people don't hate Debussy, but neither do they fall under the spell of Debussy. Perhaps it is because we listen to Debussy through the lens of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms (or even Wagner), which constitutes the daily diet of classical music with which most people grew up with (if classical music was their diet). Perhaps we mentally sprinkle some of Monet's waterlilies onto our sonic interpretation of Debussy, or perhaps it is because the French-inflected greco-latin character in Debussy is lacking in the more full-blooded nature of the British Isles and lands north of the Rhine. But whatever the reason, Debussy is generally misunderstood and misheard. A shame considering the passionate depth of his soundscaped world, which is far from superficial and dainty. Not only that but Debussy in his own life even fought the application of the term "impressionist" to his music, aligned as he was with the symbolist poets and visual artists rather than with the more popular impressionists. Categories aside, I adore Debussy for the worlds he brings to life, for the internal conflicts he reveals, the constant uncertainties of life, and the occasional ripping of the heart, and the idea, expressed in his music, that time is both impossibly limited, and of no bearing. The limits and the limitlessness of the universe are all part of Debussy's world and he leads us to new, unexplored corners of our own selves if we give ourselves up to him.
I have recorded Debussy's Preludes once before, in 2007, with a camera crew filming as I went. You can hear some small extraneous noises in that recording if you listen carefully. The sound recording is available at the moment for streaming on SoundCloud, but I do plan on making a new recording of this masterpiece as well as recordings of more Debussy in the near future. I also plan to write a number of articles about Debussy, and about the French musical tradition.
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