Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi spoke of the music of nature as the ultimate music. It surrounds us daily, unheard in the modern world of countless manmade distractions. Only the few who have opened their minds beyond the limits of the mundane can know the joy of listening to the music of nature, to which manmade music pales by comparison. French composer Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) was gifted with the ability to hear this ultimate music. The listener in turn is gifted through Debussy ‘s music, as the composer also had the uncanny ability to reflect the music of nature in his compositions.
As a young man Debussy complained that the music being composed around him ‘smelled of the lamp, not of the sun’ her looked for ways of distancing himself from the musical trends of his day. In his earlier works, such as the Suite bergamasque, Debussy used dance titles and modes borrowed from the distant past. These influences continue into his later works: the Sarabande of Hommage à Rameau, and the quasi-medieval modality in La fille aux chevaux de lin. However, it was Debussy’s uncommon sensitivity to the myriad of environmental sounds, which became the key development of his unique musical language. In an interview from 1910 he states: ‘All the noises we hear around ourselves can be re-created. Every sound perceived by the acute ear in the rhythm of the world about us can be represented musically. Some people above all wish to conform to the rules; for myself I wish to render only what I hear’
The two books of Images contain sound images of wind, water, trees, the moon, and the play of goldfish. Here the pianist encounters painstakingly measured, subtle changes in tempo, along with uncomfortably long moments of stillness and silence, as ways of reflecting the seemingly random rhythms of moving air and water. Tone clusters and polytonality recreate the complex harmonics of bell sounds traveling through the leaves. Two hands distributed across three or four registers on the piano, with each register assigned its own articulation and dynamic intensity, simulate the simultaneity of events in the surrounding nature. Through these means Debussy disengages the listener’s expectations of traditional rhythms, tonality and musical textures, and engages the senses that lie beyond the jurisdiction of the intellect. Listening to Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut is as passive an act as counting the waves by th.e ocean, or watching clouds morph. One is forced to give up expectations and to surrender to the wash of sounds and the spontaneous flurry of movements. Perhaps this surrender is the joy of which Zhuangzi spoke. copyright 2011 by Hsia-Jung Chang
"A major new recording. . . this recording easily places itself among the best interpretations, those that serve as benchmarks for Debussy's sound world..."
- Marvin J. Ward, Classical Voice of North Carolina
"This is – in the best sense of the word – not a modern recording. . . I never tire of listening!"
- Ingvar Nordin, Swedish Music Critic
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