Karstein Djupdal >> Debussy >> piano method


A piano method by Claude Debussy

Debussy's ideas on piano playing

The visual performance in a concert

The typical romantic virtuoso-pianists from the 19th century, were not just pianists trying to render a "correct" performance of a piece. They were entertainers, making a show for the audience. Elegant movements, lifting the hands high and showing the music through body movements and facial expression was something that could impress an audience. Debussy wrote somehow sarcastically in a critique of 1901 in La Revue Blanche about this kind of virtuoso:

[musicians] more interested in the orchestral pantomime than in anything really artistic. The attraction that binds the virtuoso to his public seems much the same as that which draws the crowds to the circus: we always hope that something dangerous is going to happen. M. Ysa˙e is going to play the violin with M. Colonne on his shoulders. Or M. Pugno will finish by seizing the piano between his teeth... None of these acrobatics materialized. [Lesure (1977) p. 26]

In another article in Gil Blas of 1903 Debussy writes about the young Alfred Cortot, later to be known as an interpreter of modern french piano music, including Debussy. But at this time he was more known as a conductor:

Of all French conductors, M. Cortot is the one who has learned most from the pantomine customary among German conductors . . . He has Nikisch's lock of hair (although he is in fact Hungarian), and we find this most attractive because it waves passionately at the least nuance in the music. See how it falls, sad and weary, at any hint of tenderness! So much so that it prevents any communication between M. Cortot and the orchestra. Then, at the warlike passages, it proudly stands on end again, and just at this moment M. Cortot bears down on the orchestra and threatens them with his menacing bâton. [...] He is young, and he has an open-minded love of music; good enough reasons why we shouldn't be too hard on him for using gestures that are more decorative than they are useful. [Lesure (1977) p. 164]