Debussy: Musician of France

By Victor I. Seroff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
A THUNDERBOLT

UPON HIS RETURN from London Debussy received an unexpected call. Eliza (Mrs. Richard Jr.) Hall, the president of the Orchestral Club in Boston, "debarked" at 58 rue Cardinet and asked Debussy for the composition she had commissioned. As Debussy told his friends, the piece had been "commissioned, paid for and eaten almost a year ago," and he could have added that he had forgotten all about it. Mrs. Hall, Debussy said, not content just to be an American, had a strange and extravagant hobby: "for reasons of her health," she said, she played saxophone. She studied under G. Longy, the French oboist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and through him commissioned several composers, including d'Indy, Fauré, and Debussy, to write for her.

"The tenacity of these Americans is proverbial," Debussy told Messager, and he assured Mrs. Hall that "with the exception of Rameses II" nothing occupied his thoughts as much as this composition he was working on. He even had a title for it: Fantaisie, or Rapsodie orientale. For a while Debussy searched for "new combinations calculated to show off this aquatic instrument"; he wondered whether "the saxophone indulges in romantic tenderness like a clarinet," but after making a few sketches laid it aside in favor of something better.

In the first part of July, 1903, the Debussys went for the summer to Bichain and it was there that he started a new composition: La Mer.

"You perhaps did not know," Debussy wrote Messager, "that I

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