August 22, 2007

Gratuitous Musickal Observation

I see that today is the anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy. This year, for no apparent reason, the local classical station seems to be making something of a fuss over it.

Personally, I hold no brief for Debussy's musick. Some people get very excited about his extravagant use of bunches of discordant intervals and his wanderings in and out of tonality in aid of emotive scene-painting, making fun of contemporary critics who were shocked and put off by what they described as "mere noise". Those stuffy, straight-laced fools! How could they be so blinded to what we now know to be genius? Ha! Me? I just find his musick, overall, to be rayther tarsome.

Back in the day when I was seriously studying piano, my teacher (after much hectoring) finally talked me into doing a piece by Debussy. (It was one of his preludes, La serenade interrompue, if you're interested.) I did a reasonable job, if I may say so myself, but I never really could muster much interest in the piece and performed it primarily because in return, I got my teacher to promise that the next piece we tackled would be Bach's English Suite No. 2 in A minor, BWV 807. A not unreasonable trade, I've always felt.

UPDATE: Here's a quote from Debussy himself, stolen by me from my email quote-of-the-day guy:

The sound of the sea, the curve of the horizon, the wind in the leaves, the cry of a bird, all register complex representations within us. Then, suddenly, without any deliberate consent on our part, one of these memories issues forth to express itself in the language of music. It bears its own harmony within it. By no effort of ours can we achieve anything more truthful or accurate. In this way only does a soul destined for music discover its own most beautiful ideas.

Well, that may float some people's boat, but I respectfully reply, "Phooey." By that definition, Bach's musick would be nothing more than a sterile exercise in mathematics, which any sensible person knows not to be the case.

Posted by Robert at August 22, 2007 09:07 AM | TrackBack

Debussy's music is the aural equivalent of Monet's paintings to me: You see the world of sound through a blur of color. Some of his stuff is positively brilliant: La Catedral Englotie (I probably misspelled that, but it's "The Sunken Cathedral" or "The Engulfed Cathedral" in English). That said, I'm with you overall, as I quickly get bored listening to much of his stuff.

Re: Bach. His music produces the mathmatics. The mathmatics don't produce the music.

Posted by: Hucbald at August 22, 2007 04:31 PM