Debussy & Bartok

23 Oct 2008

“Everything he does is wrong,” said one of his teachers, “but he is wrong in a talented way.” Claude Debussy went to the Paris Conservatory and studied there for eleven contention-filled years, questioning and breaking away from all the rules of the past. “Why must dissonant chords always be resolved?” Debussy asked, and when he was not given a satisfactory answer, he began to experiment with a chromaticism, modal technique, the whole tone and pentatonic scales, the avoiding of a definite key, and using chords that tended to produce vagueness of tonality. With his fastidious ear he had a natural affinity for the exotic and old as well as the most avant-garde. He acquired a reputation as an iconoclast, violating all rules, and it is not surprising that some years later the twentieth-century revolution in music began in France with Claude Debussy.
One of his professors at the conservatory inquired, “What rules do you observe?”
Debussy answered, “None—only my own pleasure!”

“That’s all very well,” came the reply, “provided you’re a genius.” They soon began to suspect that he was.

The Gift of Music

Legendary teacher Isidore Philipp offered to introduce the young Hungarian composer Bela Bartok to Camille Saint-Saens, at that time a great celebrity. Bartok declined. Philipp then offered him Charles-Marie Wider. Bartok again declined. ‘Well, if you won’t meet them, who is there that you would like to know?’ ‘Debussy,’ said Bartok. ‘But he is a horrid man,’ said Philipp. ‘He hates everybody and will certainly be rude to you. Do you want to be insulted by Debussy?’ ‘Yes,’ said Bartok."