Debussy: Musician of France

By Victor I. Seroff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
PRIX DE ROME (PART I)

"WHILE, at the Institut des Beaux Arts, the jury was debating the fate of the contestants for the Prix de Rome, Debussy was not far away -- on the Pont des Arts, one of the bridges that span the river Seine. He stood there among the other idlers watching the bateauxmouches scurrying up and down the stream. Fascinated by the reflection of the sunlight on the water, he almost forgot about the decisive hour when some one tapped him on the shoulder: "You have won the Prix de Rome."

Far from feeling proud and exuberant, Debussy looked as though a severe blow had been dealt him. The one thing he dreaded most came to pass: for three years of material independence he would have to give up his own "free" way of life, his freedom to compose when and how he pleased. But worst of all, it meant that he would have to live in Rome, to part from Madame Vasnier. Many thoughts and plans must have passed through his mind following the first shock, but none offered an acceptable solution to his problem. The least he could do in the face of this calamity was to shorten the imposed years of "exile" by postponing his departure, arriving as late as possible in Rome and then . . . there must be a way of escaping the ordeal and returning to Paris.

Seven months went by before, feeling utterly miserable, Debussy finally took a train to Italy. Torn away from his love and helpless in what was to him an unbearable situation, he hated everything that was connected with the Prix de Rome long before he reached

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