Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Debussy

Dr. Bob Prescribes Claude Debussy

Picking Up from Where We Left Off from Monday’s Music History Monday . . . Claude Debussy (1862-1918), preternaturally talented little cocker that he was, entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1872 at the age of ten. He remained there for twelve years, until 1884, when at the age of 22 he won the vaunted Prix de Rome (“Rome Prize”) for his cantata, The Prodigal Son. Having won the Prix de Rome, Debussy was expected to reside and compose at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in the Villa Medici in Rome for two years. Poor Debussy: having won a prize that everyone else coveted he complained bitterly about having to leave his beloved Paris for what he considered a “foreign exile”, something for which not a single one of us feels sorry for him. Debussy recalled his pique at having won the prize this way: “’You’ve won the prize’, someone said, tapping me on the shoulder. Whether you believe it or not, I can nonetheless assert that all my joy collapsed! I saw clearly the boredoms, the irritations that [such a prize] brings.” Debussy did indeed reside in the Villa Medici in Rome between 1885 and 1887, and he claimed to have […]

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Music History Monday: Debussy

We celebrate the birth on August 22, 1862 – 160 years ago today – of the French composer and pianist Claude Debussy.  Born in the Paris suburb of St. Germain-en-Laye, he died in Paris on March 25, 1918, at the age of 55.  Let’s tell it like it is: Monsieur Debussy was one of the great ones.  For all of its sensual beauty – and Debussy did indeed compose some of the most gorgeous music ever written – his music is among the most original, revolutionary, and influential ever composed.  At a time when young composers like Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and Béla Bartók (1881-1945) were casting about for new musical models, it was Debussy’s music that became their essential inspiration. Along with Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) Debussy was the most influential composer of the twentieth century. Among the radical triumvirate of Debussy, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky, it was Debussy who was the “breakout” composer, the first composer to cultivate a musical language that broke free of the melodic and harmonic traditions of tonality, traditions that had governed Western music since the fifteenth century.  That the musical revolution started in France is most significant, for reasons to be discussed in a […]

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Music History Monday: A Debussy Discovery!

Before getting into the date specific event/discovery that drives today’s post, permit me, please, to tell the story of the greatest manuscript discovery of all time.  The ancient city of Jerusalem sits at nearly 2,700 feet above sea level.  Less than 15 miles south of Jerusalem sits the Dead Sea, which at 1,300 feet below sea level is the lowest point on earth.   In November of 1946, three Bedouin shepherds – Muhammed edh-Dhib, his cousin Jum’a Muhammed, and his friend Khalil Musa – were looking for a stray goat (or sheep; the story shifts) around the cliffs at the northern end of the Dead Sea.  According to the story they told, Muhammed edh-Dhib threw a rock into a cave on the side of a cliff, thinking the stray animal was inside and that the rock would chase it out.  Instead of a hearing a frightened bleat, he heard pottery breaking.  Lowering himself into the cave, he found three ancient scrolls wrapped in linen.  Having climbed out of the cave and shown them to his companions, the guys went back into the cave and found four more scrolls, seven in all.  They put them in a bag and, on returning […]

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Music History Monday: Four Birthdays and a Painful Death

Some birthday greetings to four wonderful musicians before diving into the rather more grim principal subject of today’s post. Four Birthdays A buon compleanno (“happy birthday” in Italian) to the legendary Italian conductor (and cellist) Arturo Toscanini, who was born on March 25, 1867 – 152 years ago today – in the north-central Italian city of Parma (the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or “parmesan” cheese and the simply exquisite cured ham known as Prosciutto di Parma). Toscanini was as famous for his incendiary temper as he was for his streamlined, rhythmically propulsive, honor-the-composer’s-score-at-all-costs performances. Decorum and good taste precludes me from sharing many of the nicknames he was awarded by his performers; one such nickname I can share is “The Towering Inferno.” A boldog születésnapot (“happy birthday” in Hungarian) to the killer-great Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók, who was born on March 25, 1881 – 138 years ago today – in what was then the town of Nagyszentmiklós, in the Kingdom of Hungary in Austria-Hungary. (It was a source of ever-lasting pain for the adult Bartók that the town and district in which he grew up was ceded to Romania in 1920 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up by the […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Debussy’s Preludes

Last week, Patreon Patron Renato inquired: “So, what is Dr. Bob’s prescription for Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major D960 (I listen to Richter’s in Praga 1972) and for Debussy’s Prelude Book I (Michelangeli DG is my choice)? Thanks a lot. Cheers.” As we observed last week, both of these works are featured in my Great Courses survey “The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works.” I dedicated last week’s “Dr. Bob Prescribes” to the Schubert Sonata; let’s now tackle the Debussy Préludes. An even cursory glance at the recordings currently available reveals a lot of highly regarded performances. Thus, a disclaimer: I am not a “collector” of performances (of cocktail shakers, yes, but that’s a conversation for another time). As a non-collector, I tend to stop buying recordings of a given work once I’ve found a satisfactory performance (or two, as in the case of Debussy’s Préludes). So in the end, I can only recommend to you those recordings I’ve been happy with over the years. See the prescription on Patreon

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