Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Don’t Blame Debussy
Opinion © 2005, by Guy L. Evans

November 8, 2005

Last Saturday, the local classical music station, KVOD, played a piece by Claude Debussy. Einstein must have had Debussy in mind when he was formulating his theory of relativity because Debussy’s music has the effect of causing time to slow to a crawl.

Wikipedia says this about Debussy:

Achille-Claude Debussy (August 22, 1862 – March 25, 1918) was a composer of European classical music. He developed the style commonly referred to as Impressionist music. Debussy’s music represents the transition from late-romantic music to 20th century music.

Debussy’s final music shows the composer at his most experimental. The harmonies and chord progressions frequently exploit dissonances without any formal resolution. Unlike in his earlier work, Debussy no longer hides discords in lush harmonies. The forms are far more irregular and fragmented. The whole tone scale dominates much of his late music.
“[W]ithout any formal resolution” is an understatement. There is no resolution, formal or otherwise.

I can picture Debussy’s compositions wafting irresolutely about the confines of a Parisian salon while quaffed patrons posture in the gentile manner, sip tea, and make small talk. (The thought of anyone sipping a fruity Chardonnay while listening to Debussy is unthinkable because of the temptation to slurp down the entire bottle, stagger outside, and throw oneself under the nearest bus.) These refined people make it a point to be pretentious (I was looking for a synonym for “foo foo snooty booger face” and “pretentious” was the best I could come up with.)

Debussy’s music not only finds no resolution, it is utterly unmoving. It doesn’t even move the audience to melancholy. It manages to be not unpleasant to the point of being indistinctly annoying. You barely notice it until you begin to wonder when, or if, it will ever end. No matter how intently you listen, you will never have any idea what Debussy had in mind, and you will eventually stop caring. You begin to wonder how long this thing has gone on, and how long will it last, and what’s the point of living.

Debussy’s music accurately expresses French culture. It is uncommitted, uninspiring, aloof, and self-important. To those of us who do not appreciate the fineries of French sensibilities, Debussy’s work is wimpy.

And therein lies the root of the problem.

If the French are wimps, the rioters who are rending the fabric of French life are barbarians. Wimps wish to be left to their indulgences. Barbarians wish to impose their will on others by force. The more the wimps withdraw and appease, the more the barbarians attack.

French culture since World War II has been a culture of institutionalized “wimpery”. (When wimps wimp, they may be said to be engaged in wimpery.)

Wimps assume a posture of weakness. Weak people complain, nag, blame, evade, lie, and refuse to take responsibility for themselves. If the smoke ever clears in Paris, the French will go about the business of deciding who is to blame for the destruction. (To wimps, assigning blame is vastly more important than taking responsibility.) They will reach the incomprehensible conclusion that the very people who set the fires are not responsible for the arson. This will invite the next round of riots.

But don’t blame Debussy. He didn’t cause the age of wimpery. He is just another symptom.

Juliette: “Pierre, the rioters are burning cars only half a kilometer away! What shall we do?”
Pierre: “Are you stupid? Can’t you see that the smoke will get in? Close the windows and get me a glass of wine.”

Long live the wimps!

Guy L. Evans
Aurora, Colorado

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