September 18, birthday of Henriette Renié

Since July, I have been concentrating solely on female composers.  You can read about that in my post from July 19.  If I can’t find one born on the calendar day, I won’t post.  On with today’s composer.

I’m very excited to learn that Henriette Renié (18 September 1875 – 1 March 1956) has, unbeknownst to me, touched me through two what seem to be totally disparate interests of mine–a piece, “Danse sacrée et danse profane” by Claude Debussy and the comedian, Harpo Marx.

Renié was something of a prodigy:  at five she decided to give up the piano when she saw a performance by the harpist Alphonse Hasselmans, after which she declared that she was going to study with him.  However, it wasn’t until the age of 10 when she was tall enough that her feet could reach the pedals that she was allowed to study the harp.  She quickly became a virtuoso and was encouraged also to compose by other professors including Jules Massenet.  She started teaching but had a falling out with Hasselmans.  Though she tried to make it right, he would only recommend her to students he didn’t want–rich girls whose parent thought harp playing would make them more desirable as a wife!

I’ve written about Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane elsewhere on this blog, and it remains one of my favorite pieces of music.  As a harpist in Paris at the turn of last century,Renié hung out with the great composers of the time–Debussy, Ravel, Massenet, Widor, etc.  What I found out was that Renie actually arrangedDanse sacrée et danse profane for harp for the composer!

After Hasselmans refused to let one of her private students to enroll in the Paris Conservatoire, the next year Renié succeeded and this student, Marcel Grandjany, brought her technique of playing to the United States.

Harpo Marx taught himself to play the harp when one came into his possession.  He didn’t know how to tune it, so he tuned it in a way that made sense to him (which was not standard tuning) and he learned how to hold it from a picture of an angel holding a harp!  After he became rich, he hired professional teachers so he could learn to play the right way, but they were more fascinated, it seems, with his technique.

According to Wikipedia, one of those teachers was Henriette Renié!  I can’t find any other reference to this fact.  Who cares?  It’s an interesting nexus of talents, no?  So below I’m featuring one of her first compositions, followed by Debussy’s piece, and finally Harpo destroying a piano playing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C sharp Minor, and from the ruins creating a harp.  All of these pieces are sublime in their own way.

Concerto en ut mineur (C minor)

Anneleen Lenaerts plays Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane

Harpo Marx (preceded by Chico playing the piano)

Respighi: Six Pieces for Solo Piano (Scherbakov)

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve not paid much attention to the work of Ottorino Respighi. Oh, I know he wrote “The Pines of Rome,” and “The Fountains of Rome,” and “Festivals of Rome.” For godssake, I even lived in Rome and have seen the pines, some festivals and hundreds of fountains. But if you asked me to hum something from one of these piece, I’d be hard-pressed.
Not that I haven’t heard them like, a thousand times, since they used to get played again and again on the local classical radio channels, especially on the call-in request shows.


If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? If Respighi plays in the background, did I actually hear it? He was 17 years younger than Debussy, and I tend to pigeon-hole him either in the Impressionist school, or maybe as an anachronism like Rachmaninoff–poised between Romantic and Cubist or Atonal music.


He was first noted for his violin and viola virtuosity, playing in string quartets as as principle violist in St. Petersburg, with the Russian Imperial Theatre. While in Russia he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, and later, living in Germany, reportedly studied with Max Bruch.


Returning to Rome, he taught composition at the St. Cecilia Conservatory, where he managed to weather the Mussolini years trying to remain a-political though he did promote his music for nationalistic purposes. At the same time, he championed more vocal critics of fascism like Aurturo Toscanini.


Today, I’m posting something I stumbled upon while surfing youtube. It’s six pieces for solo piano. From Wikipedia, I see that he wrote operas, ballets, symphonic works, quite a few chamber pieces. His list of works does not include any works for piano, so maybe I should update the Wikipedia entry. Do any of you know anything about his piano works that you can steer me to?


Here’s a piano sonata I just found.

Reblog from Music History Wednesday : Debussy, Les Estampes No.1 Pagodes

Here’s a great article on the Indonesian Gamelan’s influence on Debussy.

Source: Music History Wednesday : Debussy, Les Estampes No.1 Pagodes

On this blog, I’ve also written about the same topics: (Gamelan)  and (Debussy’s Estampes).  Here’s one of my favorite pieces:

 

 

 

Summer Reruns–Claude Debussy, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

Today, I have chosen Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, because today’s post (see below) is about being in Paris in 1977 and going to see some paintings of water lilies by Monet at the Orangerie museum. Monet’s paintings were so different that they caused a revolution in painting. Painters became more and more obsessed with abstracting out form and color and how the paint relates to the surface of the canvass and this led to the Pointillism of Seurat, the Cubism of Braque and Picasso, and the Abstract Expressionism of people like Pollock.  Debussy was influenced by Monet as well as the highly imagistic and non-linear music of the Indonesian Gamelan, which he had heard during the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889.

In the same way of the Impressionist painters, Debussy’s music influenced almost every composer of the 20th century. In the opening strains of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, for example, you can hear him quoting the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

The Prelude was Debussy’s attempt to capture the emotion evoked by a poem by the French symbolist poet, Stephen Mallarme. In this poem, a faun (a satyr or Pan-like creature) has a semi-erotic dream about a water nymph. Debussy captures the feelings of arousal, the shimmering of the water, the climax of emotion, and the post-whatsit lassitude that engulfs the faun.

Down and Out in Paris

In my last post, I described how, during my first two weeks in Paris (in 1977), my moods fluctuated wildly. Some days, I would rise early with a sense of excitement and spend the entire day going through the laundry list of attractions that people had told me to pay a visit or about which I had studied while working on my degree in French. I went to the Louvre, Notre Dame, Mont Martre, Sacre Coeur, Place des Voges, and the medieval section known as the Marais. In the evenings, I went to see retrospectives of all of Bertolucci’s films up to that point in his career, Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, and Renais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Taking in all this culture buoyed my spirits, but at the same time an overwhelming sadness cast a pall over all my emotions.

I seemed to take to heart all the little setbacks that came my way and blame them on the city and its inhabitants. When I couldn’t find an apartment and the lead on one that seemed like a sure bet fell through, it sent me into a downward spiral. Now I see myself back then as being immature and impatient. Another thing that depressed me was that I wasn’t speaking French. I had fallen in with ex-patriot Americans and we all spoke English. Then when I would try out my French on the Parisians, they would either start talking to me in English or start railing at me about American imperialism or racism and sometimes both.

Perhaps I wasn’t prepared for the fast pace of big city life and the defense mechanisms that the citizens of Paris, like those of New York created for themselves. Truth be told, back then parts of Paris were dirty and full of people on the make. Here are a few paragraphs I wrote to my friend Thom, that kind of sum up my impressions:

“[Paris] definitely has its charms. Who hasn’t looked glowingly upon the clochards [winos] in the metro as they loll about like wine soaked walruses? Who couldn’t be happy with the beggars who exhibit mutilated feet or their unseeing eyes hoping to shock you into doling out money? Who wouldn’t reflect upon their own happy childhood seeing a little gypsy girl who hands you a note that explains that she’s very poor, how her father ran off and left her and her mother. The latter sits by looking very well fed, shoving junk food into another baby that lies, swaddled, across her lap. Ah, it makes a man feel good to be alive, I tell you Thomas!”

“I cannot begin to express to you the warmth I feel when, bustled and shoved into a cramped metro car, my glance flies hither and thither trying to avoid the glances of others who are trying to avoid my own gaze. You can stare directly at someone and nothing registers–their face is a complete blank. I suppose it’s because the women feel that to smile would be an approval of a come on?”

“It’s sort of interesting; most of what Mary [a friend of Thom’s] said about the way the French dress is true. Men cram themselves into blue jeans. Women have scarves, fur coats, and boots. But what ever your wear, it must be done in style, and everyone takes great care to develop their own. However, there are outcasts. For example, there is a cult of greasers, which one can see almost everywhere in their tight blue jeans, black leather motorcycle jackets, duck ass haircuts, etc. But even they have their own swagger and flair.”

In one of the letters that I wrote to Thom, I confess to being extremely lonely. All the new sights and sounds and smells of Paris were so overwhelming, that I wanted to have someone there to share it with. One of my fantasies was to become a writer, and I felt that if only could had had a soul mate with me in Paris, I could have become one. In truth, being on my own was probably the best thing that could have happened because I ended up writing almost continuously. I wrote letters daily to Thom and would sit in cafés for hours recording my impressions in a diary. What better way to learn how to do something than to practice it every day?

Still, I was too stupid to realize the value of that at the time, and so as I said before, I decided to buy a train ticket and go to the south of France. During my last week in Paris, I continued my sightseeing. One day I went to the Orangerie, a museum dedicated to the works of the Impressionists and the founders of modern art-Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, etc. It gets its name from having once been the green house for the Petit Palais and the Louvre where orange trees were stored during the winter. One of its treasures consists of two large elliptically shaped rooms that contain Monet’s culminating masterpiece, “Water Lilies.” This consists of four huge tableaux that cover the wall and recreated the scene on the pond on the grounds of Monet’s house at Giverny. The works represents and almost hallucinogenic or surreal experience sparked by gazing at the surface of the pond. The lilies seem to hover above the dabs of blue and green that shimmer on the rippling surface. I once read that Debussy was so taken by the evocation of moving water in Monet’s painting that he tried to capture the same sensation in his own musical compositions.

The curators of the Orangerie tried to capture the cross-fertilization between the visual and musical arts in their display of the “Water Lilies,” by playing music to heighten the artistic experience. Unfortunately, they chose to pipe in some ghastly and lugubrious contemporary music by a composer who was moved by the paintings. Why they didn’t just play some Debussy, remains a mystery to me. And believe it or not, this so offended me that it contributed to my decision to leave Paris.

Debussy’s beautiful 3:28 for the Tuesday – May 5th

I’m in hot Florida this weekend, so it’s nice listening to this “cool” music.

One journey to classical music

Before Tuesday makes you run, please use 3:28 for this beautiful, somehow hypnotizing and relaxing piece. Claude Debussy’s “Des pas sur la neige” – s’il vous plaît!

More on Debussy in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Debussy

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Reader Poll: Electronic Debussy versus Original–Syrinx, Sunken Cathedral, & Snowflakes are Dancing

See poll at bottom to vote.

Today I’d like to present three pieces by Debussy that I heard for the first time after moving into the French House, at Indiana University, in 1975. The inhabitants of the French house included several language majors, a number of musicians, some journalism students, and a number of other interesting characters of various ethnic, sexual, national and racial groups. Our two story dorm shared a common area with the Spanish House, who for the most part seemed more interested in Latin culture than, us francophiles. However, I enjoyed the mix of people, being exposed for the first time in my life to such diversity. This is where I learned the value not just of simple demographic mix, but rather the value of including different perspectives, ideas, experiences into the dialogue of human interaction. It made for a rich environment.

Music in the 1970 ranged all over the place from the psychedelia of the Grateful Dead, the Disco of Donna Summers, the satiric almost Weil and Brecht-like political and social satire of Frank Zappa to the burgeoning nihilism of Punk Rock. There was also a lot of cross pollination and breaking down of genre-barriers. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin and Weather Report were fusing Jazz and Rock and Funk and World Music. Rock bands like Kansas and Yes were considered classically inspired since they used violins and had classically trained musicians (Rick Wakemen, for example.) With the advent of cheaper and cheaper synthesizers, even Classical Music was pushing the envelope with artists like Tomita doing covers of Debussy. Tomita, a Japanese went almost even further than Walter/Wendy Carlos (of Switched on Bach), not only doing note for note covers of Debussy, but also creating soundscapes with these new instruments.

Tomita came out with an album entitled, Snowflakes are Dancing, in 1974 that contained Sunken Cathedral, Claire de Lune and Dancing Snowflakes. I wanted to do a side by side comparison of the original version with Tomita’s version and ask you which you preferred.

For some reason I had it in my mind that Tomita also did a cover of the piece for flute entitled Syrinx, but I cannot find it online.

After listening to the original and the Tomita Cover of these pieces, please answer a poll question on which you prefer. Thanks.

Sunken Cathedral (original)

Sunken Cathedral (Tomita)

Snowflakes are Dancing (original)

Snowflakes are Dancing (Tomita)

Here’s the original Syrinx. If someone can find an electronic version of it, please let me know.

Syrinx

Heres’s the poll:

Claude Debussy. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

Happy New Year!

Today, I have chosen Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, because today’s post (see below) is about being in Paris in 1977 and going to see paintings of water lilies by Monet at the Orangerie museum. Monet’s paintings were so different that they caused a revolution in painting. Painters became more and more obsessed with abstracting form and color and how the paint relates to the surface of the canvass and this led to the Pointillism of Seurat, the Cubism of Braque and Picasso, and the Abstract Expressionism of people like Pollock.  Debussy was influenced by Monet as well as the highly imagistic and non-linear music of the Indonesian Gamelan, which he had heard during the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889.

In the same way of the Impressionist painters, Debussy’s music influenced almost every composer of the 20th century. In the opening strains of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, for example, you can hear him quoting the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

The Prelude was Debussy’s attempt to capture the emotion evoked by a poem by the French symbolist poet, Stephen Mallarme. In this poem, a faun (a satyr or Pan-like creature) has a semi-erotic dream about a water nymph. Debussy captures the feelings of arousal, the shimmering of the water, the climax of emotion, and the post-whatsit lassitude that engulfs the faun.

Down and Out in Paris

In my last post, I described how, during my first two weeks in Paris, my moods fluctuated wildly. Some days, I would rise early with a sense of excitement and spend the entire day going through the laundry list of attractions that people had told me to pay a visit or about which I had studied while working on my degree in French. I went to the Louvre, Notre Dame, Mont Martre, Sacre Coeur, Place des Voges, and the medieval section known as the Marais. In the evenings, I went to see retrospectives of all of Bertolucci’s films up to that point in his career, Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, and Renais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Taking in all this culture buoyed my spirits, but at the same time an overwhelming sadness cast a pall over all my emotions.

I seemed to take to heart all the little setbacks that came my way and blame them on the city and its inhabitants. When I couldn’t find an apartment and the lead on one that seemed like a sure bet fell through, it sent me into a downward spiral. Now I see myself back then as being immature and impatient. Another thing that depressed me was that I wasn’t speaking French. I had fallen in with ex-patriot Americans and we all spoke English. Then when I would try out my French on the Parisians, they would either start talking to me in English or start railing at me about American imperialism or racism and sometimes both.

Perhaps I wasn’t prepared for the fast pace of big city life. Truth be told, back then parts of Paris were dirty and full of people on the make. Here are a few paragraphs I wrote to my friend Thom, that kind of sum up my impressions:

“[Paris] definitely has its charms. Who hasn’t looked glowingly upon the clochards [winos] in the metro as they loll about like wine soaked walruses? Who couldn’t be happy with the beggars who exhibit mutilated feet or their unseeing eyes hoping to shock you into doling out money? Who wouldn’t reflect upon their own happy childhood seeing a little gypsy girl who hands you a note that explains that she’s very poor, how her father ran off and left her and her mother. The latter sits by looking very well fed, shoving junk food into another baby that lies, swaddled, across her lap. Ah, it makes a man feel good to be alive, I tell you Thomas!”

“I cannot begin to express to you the warmth I feel when, bustled and shoved into a cramped metro car, my glance flies hither and thither trying to avoid the glances of others who are trying to avoid my own gaze. You can stare directly at someone and nothing registers–their face is a complete blank. I suppose it’s because the women feel that to smile would be an approval of a come on?”

In one of the letters that I wrote to Thom, I confess to being extremely lonely. All the new sights and sounds and smells of Paris were so overwhelming, that I wanted to have someone there to share it with. One of my fantasies was to become a writer, and I felt that if only could had had a soul mate with me in Paris, I could have become one. In truth, being on my own was probably the best thing that could have happened because I ended up writing almost continuously. I wrote letters daily to Thom and would sit in cafés for hours recording my impressions in a diary. What better way to learn how to do something than to practice it every day?

Still, I was too stupid to realize the value of that at the time, and so as I said before, I decided to buy a train ticket and go to the south of France. During my last week in Paris, I continued my sightseeing. One day I went to the Orangerie, a museum dedicated to the works of the Impressionists and the founders of modern art-Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, etc. It gets its name from having once been the green house for the Petit Palais and the Louvre where orange trees were stored during the winter. One of its treasures consists of two large elliptically shaped rooms that contain Monet’s culminating masterpiece, “Water Lilies.” These are four huge tableaux that cover the wall and recreate the scene on the pond on the grounds of Monet’s house at Giverny. The works represents an almost hallucinogenic or surreal experience sparked by gazing at the surface of the pond. The lilies seem to hover above the dabs of blue and green that shimmer on the rippling surface. I once read that Debussy was so taken by the evocation of moving water in Monet’s painting that he tried to capture the same sensation in his own musical compositions.

The curators of the Orangerie tried to capture the cross-fertilization between the visual and musical arts in their display of the “Water Lilies,” by playing music to heighten the artistic experience. Unfortunately, they chose to pipe in some ghastly and lugubrious contemporary music by a composer who was moved by the paintings. Why they didn’t just play some Debussy, remains a mystery to me. And believe it or not, this so offended me that it contributed to my decision to leave Paris.

Claude Debussy: La Mer

Ravel and Satie have been perennial favorites for me and I started listening to more of Debussy’s symphonic works. I believe I read somewhere that La Mer was the piece that really made people sit up and take notice of Debussy.

His music is called Impressionistic and was a conscious break from the tradition that started with German classicism, ran through German romanticism, and ended in bombastic music of Wagner. Here are two quotes, one by Satie and the other by Debussy which show their thinking on this matter:

Satie: “I explained to Debussy how we French needed to break away from the Wagnerian adventure, which did not correspond with our natural aspirations. And I told him that I was not at all anti-wagnerian, but that we needed a music of our own – preferably without saurerkraut.”

Debussy: “Wagner was a beautiful sunset mistaken for a dawn. There will always be periods of imitation or influence whose duration and nationality one cannot foretell – a simple truth and a law of evolution. These periods are necessary to those who love well-traveled and tranquil paths. They permit others to go much further.”

For those classically oriented audiences back then, La Mer must have seemed chaotic with its focus more on the colors and emotional impressions that different chord and instruments evoke and less on rhythm and form. Debussy tries to paint a musical picture of what it is like to be aboard a wind-powered ship, gently rolling on the swells under a canopy of a billion stars. I’d give him an A+.

I first heard La Mer in my junior year of college, in 1976. At the end of the school year, I returned home once again to find work in a factory. My brother Ken told me his company, Excel in Elkhart Indiana, was hiring. He had gotten a job a job there as their insurance and safety specialist. Ken had graduated with a degree in elementary education in 1974, but he had not liked student teaching.

The great passion of his life has been emergency rescue work. Our dad was a volunteer fireman, and in high school and college Ken had also helped out on fire calls. At one time, he ahd wanted to become a professional firefighter in South Bend, which was the only route to the job he really wanted: a paramedic. I don’t know if this is still true, but at the time those jobs were controlled by local politics. Unfortunately, we were registered democrats and South Bend had a republican mayor, so Ken was turned down when he applied.

But he threw himself into his job, and became quite good at it over the years. Outside of work, he became the chief of the local volunteer fire department and at work he instituted a number of safety programs and became quite an expert in his field. When I was back home for my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary in 1999, he told us that his company had been bought out by another and after over 20 years there, he was being down-sized. What a kick in the head. He landed on his feet, but at the time, it was dodgy.

I felt for Ken. I’ve had about 6 different employers since moving to the Washington, DC area and have had about 10 different jobs. So I have had to learn to deal with such upheavals. But in 1989, when I was laid off my first job, it seemed like the end of the world. So I know what he’s going through.

Back in 1976, however, business was good and Ken’s company hired about a hundred or so college students for the summer. Ken said it was well paid, so I told my friend, Thom Klem, and we both applied and got hired. Excel made pre-framed glass windows for the auto industry. They had three different operations: one for building the frames, another for glazing the glass, and the third for shipping. The windows they turned out were used as removable sun roofs for sports cars, sliding back windows for the cabs of pickup trucks, and large tinted windows for the back of customized vans. Oh yes, in another part of the plant, they also built doors for the cabs of huge semi-trailer rigs.

It was a pretty well-run factory. I started out working on a glazing furnace. I sat on a chair with a bin of safety glass on my right and another of frame sides on my left. I would pick up the slotted frames, squirt some liquid rubber in the grooves, press them into place on the sides of a piece of glass and attach the window to an overhead conveyor chain which snaked around the room and in and out of a huge oven. The oven made it pretty sweaty in there, and because of that it was one of the higher paid jobs in this part of the plant. Jobs were assigned by a bidding process the winning bid going to the person with the highest seniority. However, when a guy who had been hired the week before me bid on and got my job, I was not really disappointed.

Most of the college guys who worked there were of the friendly jock variety. They told funny jokes, got drunk every night, and talked about girls and the Rolling Stones. Needless to say, Klem–a Chinese and History major–and I–a French Literature major–had little in common with our co-workers and we sought each other out on breaks and at lunch. Sometimes we sat and talked. Other times we would just sit an read. A friend from college, knowing my affinity for Haiku sent me a book of Japanese Zen koans, which I would read on break and then ponder as I worked on the mind-numbing assembly line or swept up a pile of trash. Thom was reading Anatole France’s “Penguin Island.” He’d already been to France and told me stories to get me ready for the next school year.

My plan for the Fall was to live in free apartment my girl friend had found at Indiana University. She got it for free for being the janitor there and she was going to take a semester off and go to England in the fall. In the Spring, I would take a semester off and go to Paris to study. One day Thom gave me a copy of a book called “Village in the Vaucluse,” which was a sociological study of a small French town in the Midi done in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was so considerate: he wanted me to see the charm and quaintness of French village life, which he assured me still existed well in to the 1970s.

Quite a contrast from the factory. But you know, I actually liked working at this factory. It wasn’t an overly dangerous place; the workers–even the lifers–were closer to my age; and as I said, the pay was good.

And the money I earned was used to buy my plane ticket to Paris laster that year.

Download MP3s or buy CD of Debussy: La Mer

Claude Debussy, Danse Sacre et Danse Profane

Today, I start writing about one of the most wonderful episodes of my life. In January of 1975, I moved into “The French House” at Indiana University. This dorm sat in a complex called Graduate Residence Center (GRC). During World War II, the university became a language training center for the armed forces. A number of dormitories for the troops sprang up at the East side of campus in a small meadow, through which a little stream ran. After the war, more dorms were added and given over to students in graduate school, in order to separate them from the rowdier dorms. The older buildings were set aside for those of us studying a particular foreign language, and you were only supposed to speak your house’s language in the dorm.

During that first semester there, I met more interesting people in my little, two story dorm, than I had up to that point in my entire life. Most of the people in this coed dorm either majored in language or music, or some other humanity. There was only one science major, a randy, polyglot pre-med student with boundless energy. For the first time since adolescence, when I had became obsessed with the desire to become an intellectual, I did not feel like a freak.

Every body in the French House, and GRC for that matter, loved learning. And on top of that, there were a great bunch of eccentrics thrown in. I once met a guy who had studied Greek and Latin in high school. He dressed in army fatigues, smoked a pipe, and looked a bit like a side of beef. “My teacher made us translate the Oddyssey from Greek to Latin, and then back again,” he once said as we chugged along one day to class, he puffing away like a manic train engine.

Over the next few weeks, I will talk about a number of interesting people in and around the French House, whose stories are bound up with my exposure to even more classical music. Indeed, I heard a number of my all time favorite works of classical music–the ones I want to be buried with–while I was living in this dorm. I was exposed to a number of these while sitting around talking about art, literature, or music in the rooms of my dorm mates. And best of all, these people weren’t sitting around getting plastered before they started having a philosophical or literary discussion. You could actually talk about these things over dinner in the cafeteria.

Since Indiana University was the largest music school in the States, you had ample opportunities to get your fill. The music school had five student orchestras and mounted an entire opera season over the course of the year. Every night you could go hear a doctoral or master’s recital. In addition, Indiana University was on the tour circuit for major performers. While I was there, Horowitz, Nureyev, and Peter Schickele performed there as well as dance companies like Alvin Aley, Philobolus and Eliot Feld. So I felt as if I had died and gone to classical music heaven.

Even better, the people in my dorm would think it quite reasonable to want to go and see a performance and shared information about upcoming ones that promised to be good. That is how I first encountered today’s piece, Debussy’s Danse Sacre et Danse Profane. Someone asked me to if I wanted to go see the Eliot Feld Dance Company. This was not long after seeing the Nutcracker, so I accepted the invitation.

Feld’s company was much less formalized than the traditional ballet companies, and the dancers wore costumes that suggested real clothing and not bizarre tutus or thigh-hugging tights. The dancers also seemed more in touch with the rhythm and mood of the pieces. My favorite work that evening was a sensual dance of seduction set to Debussy’s music. A man courted a woman and they moved sinuously around the one prop on stage–a divan on wheels that they could push around and fall on in passionate embraces. It was one of the most beautiful performance I had ever seen, and the music still evokes that scene today whenever I hear it.

One of the links at the bottom of the page today talks about how Debussy a harp manufacture commissioned this piece to showcase a new invention in the instrument-a pedal system that allowed the performer to change keys easily. That invention made the instrument more versatile and caused its induction into the orchestra as an integral instrument.

The first dance, the sacred one, starts out sounding a bit like angelic harps. Of the two dance, it is less melodic and more impressionistic. It creates an expansive mood of airiness, lightness, and joy. The tonal structure is inspired by Debussy’s fascination for Spanish music, and I find it almost has an oriental feel to it. The second dance, the profane one, has a strong beat that carries it along. The melody rides this pulse, welling up, from time to time, in passionate exuberance. It ideally suits Feld’s use of it for the dance of seduction.

It wasn’t until doing the research on this piece that I realized another reason why it appeals to me so much. The profane dance is really reminiscent of Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies, which Debussy loved and even orchestrated. These are works of sheer, unadulterated, and perhaps naive beauty and passion. And since the French House is where I found my first love, these pieces today still pack a big emotional bang for my buck.

Debussy Commissioned by Harp Manufacturer

Debussy Biography

Download MP3s or buy CD of Debussy Sacred and Profane Dances

 

Debussy: Sonate en trio, for flute, viola & harp, L. 137

At work, I sometimes have Pandora streaming classical music.  A while back, I created a Claude Debussy channel and this work popped up.  A beautiful piece and it reminds me of his Sacred and Profane Danses.

Hope you enjoy.

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