Karstein Djupdal >> Debussy >> pianist


Debussy at the piano

Accounts describing Debussy as a pianist


Marguerite Vasnier about Debussy in his student years:

He composed at the piano, [...] at other times, he would compose walking about. He used to improvise at length, then walk up and down the room singing to himself, with his eternal cigarette in his mouth or rolling paper and tobacco in his fingers. Then, when he'd found the idea, he wrote it down. [Nichols p. 18]

The poet Leon-Paul Fargue:

Debussy would sit himself down without speaking at the piano of the little study-cum-library and start to improvise. [...] He would start by brushing the keys, prodding the odd one here and there, making a pass over them and then he would sink into velvet, sometimes accompanying himself, his head down, in an attractive nasal voice, like a sung whisper. [Nichols p. 49]

Mary Garden, about a dinner visit from Debussy and his wife Lily:

After dinner we used to go into the drawing-room, and Lily and I would go into a corner and talk about things. Then Debussy would sit at the piano, and for an hour or so he would improvise. Those hours stay like jewels in my mind. I have never heard such music in my life, such music as came from the piano at those moments. How beautiful it was, and haunting, and nobody but Lily and I ever heard it! Debussy never put those improvisations down on paper; they went back to the strange place they had come from, never to return. That precious music, lost for ever, was so unlike anything Debussy ever published. There was a quality of its own about it, remote, other-worldly, always saying something on the verge of words. [Nichols p. 72]

The composer Raymond Bonheur:

It was when he played from a still uncertain sketch, that he was truly prodigious – 'How I envy painters', he used to say, 'who can embody their dreams in the freshness of a sketch. [Nichols p. 11]