Claude Debussy's Pianistic Vision







Visual influences on Debussy

Debussy's Residences, 1892-1918

It is impossible to establish with certainty what influenced Debussy unless he spoke of it directly and that information exists today. It is possible, however, to establish where he lived, what the buildings and areas look like today, in March and November of 2006, and to ascertain some of the qualities which he experienced in his daily life.

Paris is no longer enveloped in a cloudy murk of coal smoke and fog, but the streets, parks, and architecture create distinct impressions. In fall and winter the fog, rain and shadows from cloudy weather create an ever-changing landscape of shadows, play of light, and a changing kaleidoscope of brilliant and muted colors. The sky contains blues and greys in combinations I have seen only in Paris.

Roy Howat told me on October 28th during his interview at the 2006 International Debussy Congress in Austin, TX that Debussy is entirely visual and that European cities each have a unique quality of light. He also touched upon Debussy's lifelong process of assimilation of experiences, place, and imagination. I plan to explore this notion more closely.

I photographed four of his residences during March and November 2006 and provide some commentary:

-In 1887 Debussy lived at 27 Rue de Berlin with his parents. I was not able to locate this address.

-In 1892 Debussy lived at 42 Rue de Londres, above Gare St. Lazare and a block away from Eglise Trinite, with his parents.

-During 1893-98 Debussy lived at Ave Gustave Dore.

-1898 Debussy moved to 58 Rue Cardinet and married Lily Texier October 19, 1899. His house is on the far left.

-During 1905 he briefly lived on the east side of Paris at 10 Avenue Alphand.

-From 1905-1918 Debussy lived at 24 Courtyard du Bois de Boulogne with Emma Bardac and his daughter Claude-Emma Chouchou who was a great source of joy and musical inspiration after her birth in 1905. Debussy said were it not for Chouchou he might have committed suicide.

Roy Howat commented on how her life and death conicided with an enormously creative period of Debussy's life. Chouchou died a year after Debussy when the doctor gave her the wrong treatment during a bout with diptheria. Her death so soon after Debussy's, Howat mused, makes one wonder if she was brought into the world to inspire her father and once he was gone, she followed.

Claude Debussy as a young man, portrait in the Debussy Museum, St. Germain en-Laye