Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed, How to Listen to It

By Marion Bauer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
IMPRESSIONISTIC METHODS--DEBUSSY AND HIS INFLUENCE

IMPRESSIONISM as developed by Claude Achille Debussy ( 1962-1918) was one of the strongest factors in the creation of a different and non-Teutonic mode of thought in music. It was the result of a nature in revolt. First, as a pupil at the Conservatory he would rail against the rules of harmony to his fellow students. Why must dissonant chords be resolved? Why were the consecutive fifths and octaves forbidden? Why was parallel movement in the voice parts forbidden? He would improvise curious chord successions in which augmented intervals and chords of the ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth,--all unresolved and traveling in the same direction,--hurt reactionary ears which had accepted the traditional teachings without question. Achille, as he was called, was regarded as an impossible and dangerous revolutionary! He taunted them with "What are you so shocked about? Can't you listen to chords without wanting to know their status and their destination? Where do they come from? Whither are they going? What does it matter? Listen; that's enough. If you can't make head or tail of it, go and tell M. le Directeur that I am ruining your ears." ( Claude Debussy: Life and Works by Leon Vallas.)

His teacher, Guiraud, seemed to understand him and was interested in his eccentric notions, although he counseled him to Curb his wild experiments if he wished to win the Prix de Rome. Debussy worked out logical reasons in his own mind for his tonal idiosyncrasies in all kinds of unusual scale combinations and modulations, and in a wider variety of rhythmic figures as well as new harmonic and melodic patterns.

He won the Prix de Rome in 1884 with his cantata L'Enfant Prodigue, and again his natural tendency to revolt against any-

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