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:




Prince Mangkunegara IV of Surakarta: Puspawarna (Kinds of Flowers)

And as I have said before, it was always interesting hanging around with the artsy-campy crowd I discovered at Indiana University in Bloomington in the 1970s (see story below today’s piece.) Everything was allowed, and at least one member of the group knew about whatever I had questions about—opera, art, music, literature, history or languages. At a party once, someone took out a copy of The Nonesuch Explorer, which was an anthology of folk and classical music from nearly every continent. This album soon became my favorite, at it is the source of today’s piece.

It may seem odd to write about the court music of Java in a page devoted to classical music. But I never intended to limit this page to just Western classical music. In case of the gamelan, which is a combination musical instrument/orchestra, its music is as studied and formalized as that of our own. What’s more, this type of music had a profound effect on Claude Debussy who found in it the impetus to free him from the academically strict music of his day. Indeed, he experimented with the pentatonic scale, alternate rhythms, and new chordal clusters and his experimentation changed the face of Western music.

Today’s piece still grabs me after all these years. As soon as the track starts, its as if my mind shifts into a completely different reality. Time and is distorted—speeding up and slowing down willy-nilly. Space seems to warp. I might as well be dreaming.

Buy Recording from Nonesuch

Wikipedia Entry on this Piece

Biography of Composer

A Spitball Keeps me From Dancing (written in 1999)

In the Fall of 1976, my girl friend traveled to England. The girl I considered my soul mate, Kristi, had gone to Lima, Peru to work on her Spanish. I lived in a hovel in the bowels of an apartment building. My social life revolved mostly around the artsy-campy group that used to hang out around the French House.

Kristi wrote wonderful letters of her time in Lima. She had a jocular yet literary style and she painted wonderful word pictures about Peruvian culture, the country’s politics and a trek she made to the mysterious city of Machu Picchu. I would read her letters and imagine myself standing beside her on some promontory in the Andes, munching perhaps on an edible tuber.

The letters that came from my girl friend in England were singularly dispiriting. Once she wrote about an Indian meal she had eaten in London. She expressed surprise and a sense of injury when each dish she tried failed to taste the way she expected it. Later in the night, she threw it all up in her squalid little hotel room. The tone of the letters I now realize expressed the feelings of someone to whom fate had dealt some bad cards. At the time, however, I just scorned what I considered her weakness and frailty.

At such times I would bemoan my fate and wonder how I let Kristi slip through my fingers. Was there any chance that I could win her back? This turned out to be the start of a pattern that plagued me during a number of relationships. It’s the old “the grass is always greener” syndrome, and it has caused me to hurt a number of people, for which I am truly sorry.

I would like to say that I did the noble thing and remained faithful to my girl friend while she was in England. In truth, I was faithful in deed but not thought. I resembled Jimmy Carter in that aspect who during his campaign that fall gave an interview with Playboy Magazine in which he said “I have committed adultery in my heart many times.”

What made me faithful in deed, however, was not a deep moral or ethical conviction. No, I was just too shy to try to pick up girls. While writing this, I discovered why. Part of it has to do with having had a poor body image—I was a little plump as a child and a few adults remarked on it and though I lost my baby fat, the impression has lasted almost all of my life. But the prime reason I failed in the bar scene was the dancing. I wasn’t crazy about disco music which was all the rage back in the late 1970s, but that wasn’t the real reason. I had a mortal dread of making a fool of myself and having people stare at me.

It had to do with something that happened in my sixth grade band class. My parents had forced me to play the clarinet, at which I was hopeless. I always tried to get out of playing by pretending I was sick or had left my instrument at home. One day, we were supposed to take dance lessons in this class. We were all kind of excited about it—nervous adolescents with burgeoning sexual tension. I fidgeted.

Now my mother had recently bought me a brief case. I had lobbied for one because James Bond had one and he filled it full of cool devices any spy would need—guns, poison gas, bombs, Geiger counters, etc. What I liked about mine were the neat little spring-loaded clasps on either side of the handle. They were perfect little catapults for launching spitballs.

To break the tension and draw attention to myself (I was after all the class clown), I chewed up a piece of paper, wadded it into a sphere, set it on one of my catapults, called to one of my friends and inconspicuously nudged the button.

“Kurt!” yelled the music teacher, Mrs. Muldoon. “Out into the hall!”

I was crushed. I liked Mrs. Muldoon. She liked me. I liked her even though she had a hideous U-shaped scar on her neck from a thyroid operation. “No. I’m sorry,” I protested.


So out I went. She was so preoccupied coordinating and directing the dancing that she forgot all about me and I spent the entire hour out in the hall. I would look in the window from time to time and saw my friends—Boys!—touching girls. The left hand of my friend, Randy, rested on the hip of a girl! The other held the girl’s right hand aloft as they waltzed around the room. To make matters worse, the principal came walking up and asked why I was in the hall and I had to lower my head and confess my crime.

And so, I did what anyone would do to hide their shame and disappointment: I said “sour grapes.” Thus I did not learn to dance until graduate school and never mastered the art of the pick-up. Considering the number of people my age who ended up with herpes, however, I guess I really don’t mind.

Now if the Mrs. Muldoon had played Gamelan music in our class, maybe I would have learned to dance earlier.

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