Opinions, Errata, and Miscellany

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Thank you!

Debussy's recordings

"I just finished reading your book about Claude Debussy, and I wanted to tell you how delighted I was by it. . . . I must say, though, that I was hoping you would mention something about Debussy's recordings. The four recordings done in 1904 with Mary Garden probably deserved mention, since she was obviously a key figure in Debussy's life. A bit more obscure as a story, perhaps, but far more compelling for the musical record are his Welte-Mignon recordings of 1913. In particular I was amused by your quotation of Cortot stating that 'La Plus que lente' was 'totally insignificant.' Yet Debussy thought enough of it to make it one of the fourteen pieces he recorded. Unfortunately, due to either his long illness, or perhaps poor memory (if he was playing any or all of the pieces without sheet music), he makes several errors during his performance of this lovely piece, including leaving out several bars!

    "In any case, I ultimately wanted to thank you for what must have been many years of hard work and research. The end result is marvelous!"

                                              John Merlino, percussionist

Debussy's piano-roll recordings (1913)

(click on the titles for YouTube links) 

La Cathédrale engloutie

La Soirée dans Grenade

Le Vent dans la plaine

Mary Garden's recordings (1904)

with Debussy at the piano

(click on the titles for YouTube links) 


Mes cheveux longs (from Pelléas et Mélisande)

Il pleure dans mon coeur

Comments from a Debussy scholar

When my book Afternoon of a Faun was published, in October 2015, I sent a copy to Roger Nichols, a well-known Debussy scholar, who had kindly allowed me to quote liberally from his translations of two essential Debussy books. 

    After reading Faun, Mr Nichols sent me a note, pointing out a few areas of disagreement with my text.

    “First, about Osiris's will,” Mr Nichols wrote. “François Lesure's biography (currently the prime source) gives details, including the fact that Osiris left Emma a yearly income of 5000 francs, so it is untrue to say that he left her nothing."   [When he was 36, Emma's uncle Daniel Iffla legally adopted the surname Osiris, after the Egyptian god of death and renewal. In his later years, Daniel Iffla Osiris was believed to be one of the richest men in France.] 

    Mr Nichols continued: "What is true — and this was categorically confirmed to me, face to face, by Emma's daughter Dolly — is that Emma never expected any large legacy, when married either to Bardac (who himself had plenty) or to Debussy who, as you point out, was not a pauper in the first decade of the 1900s, just extravagant. Certainly, therefore, there can be no question of a ‘betrayal.’”

     Not betrayal, but perhaps disappointment, I would argue. After all, in his lifetime, Osiris gave away millions of francs for public and religious enterprises that inspired him. In his will, he bequeathed 30 million to the Pasteur Institute, gave 2 million to the city of Bordeaux to establish a soup-kitchen for the poor; and gave France the Château La Tour Blanche and its great vineyards. So I wonder whether 5,000 francs a year might not have disappointed the niece of such a rich uncle, who had no surviving children of his own. 

    Second, Mr Nichols took issue with my “underlying animus against Ravel. I'm not pretending he was perfect . . . But your claims that he tried to separate Debussy from Satie by 'manipulative interventions' and that he aimed to succeed by outshining the latter are impossible to reconcile with the facts. In any case, that sort of machination was absolutely foreign to him. As you know, I've worked in the field for some time now and have met quite a few people who knew Ravel, and all have been of one mind that, yes, he could at times be childish, was touchy about his small stature and could be very sharp with erring interpreters; but the sort of mean-mindedness you attribute to him, never. . . .”

    Where, on page 258, I mention that Debussy referred to Ravel as a trickster, “I do think you should make it clear that this is a musical and not a moral judgment.” Mr Nichols also points to my reading of Ravel’s review of Debussy (page 257), where I mistook Ravel’s irony for contempt.

    Finally, challenging my assertion that

Satie’s relations with Ravel were frosty

after 1912, Mr Nichols is “lucky enough

to possess an unpublished autograph

New Year card from Satie to Ravel and

his mama for 1914, offering tenderest

best wishes to both and, with unwitting

and uncomfortable irony, saying that

it looks to him as though 1914 is going

to be a good year.” 

Daniel Iffla Osiris