Debussy: Musician of France

By Victor I. Seroff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
BOHEMIAN PERIOD -- DEBUSSY'S ESTHETICS

EVER SINCE THE Wagnerian wave had engulfed France, French musicians had made yearly pilgrimages to Bayreuth. Some of them were very emotional. It has been reported that Chabrier, one of the most joyful French composers, burst into tears while listening to the prelude to Tristan, and that Guillaume Lekeu fainted and had to be carried out of the theater. Some listened with excessive admiration and others as if in a state of delirium, some returned home resigned to experimenting in the old art of love, while others looked for new mistresses. At twenty-six Debussy was strong and brave enough to face the ordeal, and he was curious and anxious enough to declare that if need be he would go there on foot. This, however, was dictated more by his financial status than his ardor. Luckily his wealthy friend Étienne Dupin invited Debussy to join him as his guest on the journey to the Wagnerian Mecca, thus making it less of a heroic feat.

Debussy neither burst into tears nor fainted, although he behaved like a pious monk. He heard Die Meistersinger and Parsifal and came away as devout as a communicant. During the following year he returned to Bayreuth and besides these operas heard Tristan. This time he was completely disillusioned. The sudden change in his feeling toward Wagner, which became final, has always been attributed to his enthusiasm for Moussorgsky Boris Godunov (meanwhile he was supposed to have read the score). In my opinion only lack of information about his trips to Russia could have led to

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