Music Composers

Claude Debussy-Part 3

One finds of course a perfect concordance between the ideals of Debussy and the means chosen by him to reach them, and that is what interests us most. "How to arrive?" We have here a nature which strives to free itself from all scholastic, academic restraints. As a true artist he shams repetition, plagiarism, not only the outlines of his melodies by also in the combination of chords, in rhythm, in the accepted forms of composition. A radical sweeping change was necessary. The melodic contours had to be almost obliterated, dissonances, which were formerly carefully avoided by the classicists, had to become the most momentous part of his harmonies. Consecutive fifths, seconds, octaves became with him daily bread. Forms had to be thrown on the dust heap. But where to find substitutes? As we have already noticed, the Gregorian modes, the whole tone scale, the equivocal single chord (the augmented triad) and similar devices furnished him the necessary material for his unique, quaint edifice.

Of course it is unavoidable that, through this constant striving after something never done before, through the uninterrupted refraining from the beaten paths, the work of art must necessarily lose its fluidity, its naturalness. Once cannot force continuously the imagination into unusual moulds without giving birth to something queer and freaky. The composer who gives the reins to his phantasy and allows it to soar unhampered into space cannot always watch like a Cerberus that the scales, the chords conform to new, self-imposed dictates. A natural simplicity, a total absence of affectation, is often more charming than the most elaborate composition which at every moment reveals the fastidious adherence to some new tyrannical rules. It is like falling from Autocracy into Bolshevism.

The Etude Magazine February 1921





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