JCA celebrates Debussy

The name may not sound familiar, but the sounds, tones and rhythms of Claude Debussy’s work certainly will be.

The French composer’s work has had a lasting impact on music of all genres.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Debussy’s birth, the Jordan College of the Arts is hosting the Debussy Celebration, which will consist of lectures and performances by Butler University students, faculty and guest artists spread throughout this week and next.

Debussy, a key modernist composer, is known for such pieces as “Clair de Lune” and “La Mer.” He is most associated with the philosophies of impressionism.

On Sept. 29, lectures and a piano recital will be held in the Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall at 7:30 p.m.

At 2:15 p.m. the following day, a pre-concert speech will be held, and a Butler Symphony Orchestra concert will follow at 3 p.m. in Clowes Memorial Hall.

Then on Oct. 2 and 9, lectures and performances will commence at 7:30 p.m. in the Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall.

“I think it’s important for students to have awareness of both French music as well as Debussy’s contributions to music,” said Daniel Bolin, chair of the school of music, “just like it’s important to know the contributions of experts in other subjects, like Einstein in science or Hemingway to literature.”

The organization of this event is led by James Briscoe, professor of music history and Debussy scholar.

Briscoe, a self-proclaimed “Debussy fanatic,” has had a major interest in the composer spanning back to his college days.

“I was very interested in French—being a French minor— but also in French music,” Briscoe said. “As an undergrad, I played cello and played Debussy’s cello sonata for my senior recital, and the obsession really took off from there.”

Briscoe presented a study for the Music History Association last Saturday to coincide with the Debussy Celebration. For the presentation, he interviewed 23 current composers about Debussy and his impact.

The composers included jazz pianist Chick Corea and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, perhaps the most predominant figure in jazz today.

Briscoe said they all concurred that Debussy was the most influential composer at the beginning of the 20th century.

In his interview, Marsalis said, “Debussy taught us how to organize sensual feelings and experiences through music.”

Corea cited Debussy as the single most important composer in his life.

Debussy has not only impacted the music of these 23 composers but also the likes of such famed musicians and composers as Duke Ellington, Philip Glass, Bix Beiderbecke and John Williams.

“When listening to Debussy, every piece is beautiful,” Briscoe said. “It’s colorful. His compositions evoke all sorts of feelings. Every piece is original.”

The key component to Debussy’s work is his desire to make his listeners feel something, whether that was an emotion, thought, idea or experience.

Briscoe said the techniques he used to accomplish this goal were revolutionary.

As Debussy himself once said: “I love music passionately. And because I love it, I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it.”

“Debussy’s work has a surprise value, in that every time you hear it, you discover a new aspect of it,” Briscoe said. “It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope where, with each turn, you gain a new point of view, a new perspective on it.”


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