I promised the daughter also some French ariettes, one of which I began to-day. I think with delight of the Concert Spirituel in Paris, for probably I shall be desired to compose something for it.
In 1884, when he was in his twenty-second year, his cantata, l'Enfant prodigue, won for him the Prix de Rome by a majority of twenty-two out of twenty-eight votes it is said to have been the unanimous opinion of the jury that the score was "one of the most interesting that had been heard at the Institut for years." While at the Villa Médicis he composed, in 1887, his Printemps for chorus and orchestra, and, in the following year, his setting of Rossetti's "Blessed Damozel," of which the authorities at the Conservatory saw fit to disapprove because of certain liberties which Debussy even then was taking with established and revered traditions. He performed his military service upon his return from Rome; and there is a tradition told, as bearing upon his love of recondite sonorities, to the effect that while at Évreux he delighted in the harmonic clash caused by the simultaneous sounding of the trumpet call for the extinguishing of lights and the sustained vibrations of some neighboring convent bells. From this time forward his output was persistent and moderately copious. To the year 1888 belong, in addition to La Demoiselle Élue, the remarkably individual "Ariettes," six settings for voice and piano of poems by Verlaine. To 1889-1890 belong the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra and the striking "Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire" (Le Balcon, Harmonie du Soir, Le Jet d'Eau, Recueillement, La Mort des Amants). In 1891 came some less significant piano pieces; but the following two years were richly productive, for they brought forth the exquisite Prélude
The style of the two Arabesques and the more successful of the Ariettes oubliées is perfect. A liberator seemed to have come into music, to take up, half a century later, the work of Chopin the work of redeeming the art from the excessive objectivity of German thought, of giving it not only a new soul but a new body, swift, lithe and graceful.
Claude-Achille Debussy was born August 22nd, 1862, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He died at Paris March 22nd, 1918. He entered the Conservatoire at the age of twelve, studying harmony with Lavignac and piano with Marmontel. At the age of eighteen, he paid a brief visit to Russia. But it was not until several years later that he became acquainted with the score of "Boris Godounow," which was destined to have so great an influence on his life, and precipitate his revolt from Wagnerism. In 1884 he gained the Prix de Rome with his cantata "L'Enfant prodigue." During his three-year stay at the Villa Medici he composed "Printemps" and "La Damoiselle élue." "Ariettes oubliées" were published in 1888, followed, in 1890, by "Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire"; in 1893 by the string-quartet and the "Prélude
His resort to Gregorian principles is, it has been observed, far from being a matter of recent history with him. Almost twenty years ago we find him writing in the spirit of the old modes. Examine the opening phrases of his song, Harmonie du Soir (composed in 1889-1890), and note the felicitous adaptation to modern use of the "authentic" mode known as the Lydian, which corresponds to a C-major scale with F-sharp. Observe the use of the same mode in the introductory measures, and elsewhere, of his setting of Verlaine's Il pleure dans mon coeur , the second of the "Ariettes." Five years later, in Pelléas et Mélisande, the trait is omnipresent too extensive and obvious, indeed, to require detailed indication. One might point out, at random, the derivation from the seventh of the ecclesiastical modes (the Mixolydian) of the phrase in the accompaniment to Arkël's words in the final scene, "L'âme humaine aime