What style does debussy compose

Master of musical brushstrokes: Claude Debussy on his 150th birthday

Nowadays young people know the name "Debussy" mainly because his composition "Clair de lune" became the theme music in the popular vampire flick "Twilight". But only a few suspect that many pieces from the pen of the French composer conjure up moods and images that have a lot in common with those of the famous Hollywood film.

Claude Debussy was born on August 22, 1862 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 20 kilometers west of Paris. He felt strongly drawn to painting and visual art and would certainly have enjoyed the role of a film composer. Among his friends were painters and poets who had devoted themselves to impressionism and symbolism, and like them Debussy developed a great interest in the indefinite and mysterious.

He was particularly fascinated by the occult and, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's dark works "The Devil in the Bell Chair" and "The Fall of the House of Usher", he thought of designing a "theater of horror". For both pieces he left unfinished fragments of music that are occasionally performed.

The dark opera "Pelléas and Mélisande"

The opera "Pelléas et Mélisande" is considered to be Debussy's masterpiece. The British musicologist Langham Smith, co-author of the Cambridge Opera Handbook and editor of the Debussy Studies, once described the opera as a very radical story: "It's a typical love triangle, but it's all about fate and willpower and foresight. The ideas of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer flow into how far you can take your fate into your own hands, "he sums up. "It's about the abuse victim Mélisande, it's about jealousy, but also about love. The love Mélisande experiences is not of a sexual nature, but in a certain way goes much deeper."

Debussy's opera "Pelleas et Melisande" is now recognized as a masterpiece

The premiere of "Pelléas et Mélisande" was an affront at the time. "People said it was an opera with no singing because there were no melodies and arias that could be clearly remembered," explained Langham Smith. "It was different from, for example, operas by Massenet and Gounod with their soprano arias, which the audience was used to and loved. And then suddenly this dark opera came along." Debussy expert Langham Smith also reconstructed his opera "Rodrigo and Chimene" for a performance in Lyon in 1993.

Sunrise or sunset?

When Debussy was at the beginning of his career, everything in music circles revolved around Richard Wagner. Debussy also went to Bayreuth, but later distanced himself from the composer and described his music as "a sunset mistakenly understood as sunrise".

Debussy considered Wagner overrated

Despite the critical words, Debussy made use of Wagnerian compositional techniques in his opera "Pelléas und Melisánde"; for example, he used recurring musical motifs for certain characters.

Debussy's rejection of German music went even further. He called Beethoven "the old dove" and described Schubert's songs as "pressed flowers in a drawer". Langham Smith suspects political reasons behind this: "In his old age shortly before and of course during World War I, he became increasingly nationalistic when he wanted to emphasize how French he was."

French with global foresight

150 years after his birth, Claude Debussy's music sounds fresh as ever. His inimitable style shines especially in piano pieces such as "Estampes", Préludes "," Images "and" Études "and some orchestral works. The composer and conductor Pierre Boulez described Debussy's" Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune "(prelude on the afternoon of a Faun) once as "the beginning of the music of the 20th century".

Carved in stone: Debussy

Debussy was just as interested in Greek antiquity as in Asian culture and he was enthusiastic about everything Spanish without ever having visited the country. He admired the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, especially his song cycle "Kinderstube", and wrote some works for the little ones himself, such as "Children's Corner" and "La boîte a joujoux".

Despite all these influences, Debussy's music has remained unmistakably French. "Young and old Debussy are light years apart," said Langham Smith. "But you can see a path in development, and that path has mainly been influenced by literature."