Karstein Djupdal >> Debussy >> pianist


Debussy at the piano

Accounts describing Debussy as a pianist

The young Debussy as a pianist

Fellow students about Debussy

Camille Bellaigue (1858-1930):

Nothing about the young Debussy, neither his looks, nor his comments, nor his playing, suggested an artist, present or future. [...] He was a pianist, and one of the youngest of us, but not, I repeat, one of the best. I particularly remember his idiosyncrasy, or rather a tic, of emphasizing the strong beats in the bar with a sort of hiccup or raucous gasp. [Nichols p. 13]

Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937):

In Marmontel's piano class he used to astound us with his bizarre playing. Whether it was through natural maladroitness or through shyness I don't know, but he literally used to charge at the piano and force all his effects. He seemed to be in rage with the instrument, rushing up and down it with impulsive gestures and breathing noisily during the dificult bits. These faults gradually receded and occasionally he would obtain effects of an astonishing softness. With all its faults and virtues, his playing remained something highly individual. [Nichols p. 4]

Paul Vidal (1863-1931):

His playing was very interesting but not without its defects: he had difficulty with trills, but his left hand was extremely agile and had an extraordinary capacity for extension. [Nichols p. 6]

Paul Vidal:

His gifts as a pianist showed themselves to particular effect during the years that followed in Bazille's accompaniment class, where he distinguished himself. [Nichols p. 6]

Concert review

A concert review from january 1876:

...De Bussy [sic], who carries so much courage inside such a small body. What verve! What enthusiasm! What real spirit! Never again can it be said that the piano is a cold instrument, that the finger which strikes the key is such a long way from the string that vibrates, that its life is lost along the way or that the sound is dead! This little budding Mosart [sic] is a veritable tearaway. When he takes over the piano, he imbues the strings with his whole soul. MM. Mansart and Samary needed all their considerabel skill to keep up with him in the Haydn Trio, in which he was carried away by a charming frenzy; he is still not fourteen years old!”[Nichols p. 5]


[Marmontel] was often irritated, but sometimes amused, by the weird little preludes he used to improvise before beginning a piece, as was the custom at that time, and by the uncanny character of the more involved and complex interludes by which he brought the distant tonalities of two consecutive pieces into gear. [Vallas p. 5]
Before opening a piece he was required to play he would arouse his master's curiosity by improvising sequences of unusual arpeggios and chords. [Lockspeiser (1962) p. 28]

In a class in 1884:

'My dear orphans,' he said, 'in the absence of your parents, I shall provide nourishment for you!' And he sat down at the piano. [...] He delivered himself of a welter of chords which, for all their wildness, we could only admire with open mouths. These were followed by a rustling of misshapen arpeggios, a gurgling of trills on three notes simultaneously, in both hands, and chains of harmonic progressions which could not be analysed according to the sacrosanct textbook, and which left us bemused. For more than an hour, gasping, we stood round the piano before which danced the unruly curls of 'energumen'. This was the name given him by the janitor Ternusse – who now, roused by the unaccustomed din, smelt trouble. He burst in and put an end to the 'lesson'. [Nichols p. 21]

The employment at Nadezhda von Meck summers 1880-82

Letters from Meck to the composer Tchaikovsky in 1880

The young man plays well, his technique is brilliant, but he's lacking in sensibility. He's still too young. [Nichols p. 14]
...he read marvellously at sight. That's his only merit, but a very important one. He can read a score, even one of yours, like a book. [Nichols p. 14]

The son of von Meck:

...as he became better acquainted with Russian music he appreciated it, though by his French nature he was inclined to interpret it in a superficial and elegant manner. [Nichols p. 17]

The singer Marie-Blanche Vasnier

The daugher of the singer Marie-Blanche Vasnier, Marguerite Vasnier:

His touch on the piano was sonorous, rather percussive but also sometimes very gentle and cantabile. [Nichols p. 17]