It is sad to realize that still in 2011, 93 years after his death, Debussy is still only dimly recognized for the truly radical ideas he put forth in music. At the fall of Tonality (ca. 1890’s) two paths opened up. The Second Viennese School, with its determination to jumble the surface of the music while maintaining the traditional linear developmental ideas of the late Romantics (like Brahms), became recognized as modern; the way of the future. It “sounded” new. Whereas the serialist were simply jumbling the letters of musical “words”, Debussy decided, like his symbolist twin in literature, the poet Mallarmé, to use the same musical “words” which had been being used before, but to distill away traditional syntax. It “sounded” more like traditional music but in fact was creating a radically new syntax and saying things in ways which had never been done before: Mosaics instead of lines of development. Discrete units juxtaposed into fanciful orders instead of logical trajectories grown from the tired old methods of the German Romantics.

Share This