the inexplicable debussy


Listening to Debussy requires a full immersion in the music. Someone once told me they liked classical, but primarily listened to it as background music. In general, but especially with an impressionist like Debussy, this is tantamount to quickly scanning through a chapter of Hemingway. But active listening isn’t for everyone; it is much easier to tune in and out of a series of easily digestible baroque minuets. Music is able to accomplish a surprising amount. It is the only art form capable of capturing an emotion or, even, the heart of a country. Most classical pieces do not aim to accomplish so much, but this is why Debussy is an exceptionally difficult composer to play. A musician must be a true extension of their instrument to transcend beyond the notes on the page into the soul of something else. Debussy wasn’t just the first composer I never learned to play; he was the last composer I attempted. I was in the middle of struggling through Clair de lune, when I stopped playing the piano. Listening to it now, I think that it may have simply slipped out of my hands. Impossible to grasp, like light or water.

more from Mary Sydnor at The Smart Set here.