Debussy: Musician of France

By Victor I. Seroff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
DEBUSSYSM

DEBUSSY'S ALREADY unhappy life was to be still further troubled. In my biography of Maurice Ravel I have given a detailed account of L'Affaire Ravel, as it was called; Le cas Debussy ("The Debussy Case") was the other side of the story.

In the spring of 1902 the success of Pelléas et Mélisande was questionable. In fact there is no doubt that had it not been for Lalo's article hailing it as a masterpiece and Carré's clever management of a claque recruited from Debussy's ardent admirers, the opera might have gone into oblivion. At about that time Jean Lorrain, a reporter on the Journal, began to throw darts against the production in his "Pall Mall" column, and on January 4, 1904, he published a long article that opened the campaign against Debussysm. As humorous as it was malicious, it could not escape public attention:

Just as they were convulsed with admiration over the sunny pizzicati of that little masterpiece L'Après-midi d'un Faune, they have now declared that we must go into raptures over the deliberate dissonances of the lengthy recitatives in Pelléas. Those long-drawn chords and those perpetual beginnings of repeatedly announced phrases have an enervating effect. A kind of titillation that is at first pleasurable, then exasperating, and in the end, cruelly painful, is inflicted on the ears of the audience by the continual repetition of a theme that is constantly interrupted and which never terminates. This work with its limbo-like atmosphere and its occasional little shocks so very artistic (oh, my dear!) and so upsetting (you can imagine!) received the united votes of a public consisting of snobs and poseurs.

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