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Speaking of Pianists » Blog Archive » Happy Birthday, Achille

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    Happy Birthday, Achille

    Today, August 22, is the birthday of one of our greatest composers of music for the piano: Claude - Achille Debussy. Born in 1862, Debussy was one of the most important composers of the twentieth century, continuing and expanding the Romantic tradition with his bold harmonic explorations. For pianists, he is arguably the most important composer after Chopin.

    It was late in 1892 at the age of thirty that he was finally able to shed the name “Achille” (from the Greek warrior) and became, simply, Claude.

    The Académie des Beaux-Arts was not impressed with Debussy’s new sounds and harmonies initially. The following rebuke, however, is important because it uses the word impressionism for the first time in the musical world.

    Monsieur Debussy…has a pronounced tendency – too pronounced - towards an exploration of the strange. One has the feeling of musical color exaggerated to the point where it causes the composer to forget the importance of precise construction and form. It is strongly to be hoped that he will guard against this vague impressionism, which is one of the most dangerous enemies of truth in works of art.

    So much for the taste of the Académie.

    Pianist and author Paul Roberts, long-time friend of Portland Piano International, has made an important contribution to the Debussy literature. His new biography, Claude Debussy (Phaidon Press, 2008) is a gorgeous and engaging portrait of the composer, inviting us into Debussy’s life through letters, photographs and art of the period. Roberts knows the works of Debussy intimately and has recorded two discs of his music, including the complete Preludes.

    [Roberts] “has succeeded, distilling a lifetime’s reading, listening and thinking to create an intimate portrait that takes us nearer to the heart of that music than any biography before.” (Michael Church, The Independent)

    For Paul Roberts’ website, including audio clips, click here:

    I’ve just finished reading his beautiful book; it’s like a good novel that I just couldn’t put down.

    “Collect impressions. Don’t be in a hurry to write them down. Because that’s something music can do better than painting: it can centralize variations of color and light within a single picture - a truth generally ignored, obvious as it is.”
    Claude Debussy, in a letter to his stepson, Raoul Bardac

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