Debussy: Proses lyriques

(Booklet text of CD "Portrait Erik Reischl, Volume 2")

Of the more than 60 songs by Claude Debussy most were composed between 1882 - 1893 in an early creative phase of the composer, even before he began the ten year work on his opera "Pelléas et Melissande" and before the important piano works such as the Préludes, Images, Estampes, the Suite Bergamasque and the Etudes. The main influence in composing these songs was Mme Marie-Blanche Vasnier who was - apparently very talented - a non-professional singer whom he had met in 1880 as teaching collegue at a course with Mme Moreau-Sainti. The reciprocal admiration quickly grew into a fertile friendship out of which many songs developed.

The extent of the admiration is documented in the following dedication:

"To Madame Vasnier. These songs which she alone has made live and which will lose their enchanting grace if they never again to come from her singing fairy lips. The eternally grateful author."

The "Proses lyriques" which were composed in 1892-1893 are the only ones Debussy composed for which he also wrote the texts. The decision to compose a complete work by introducing his own poetry probably originates from his admiration for Richard Wagner - although this was of a contradictory nature. The texts adhere closely to the Symbolist poems of Bourget, Baudelaire and Verlaine for whom Debussy had composed music, but he does not achieve the literary quality of these renowned writers nor the musical standard of his own compositions. However, it seems Debussy was not so much interested in the content of the texts but rather it was the tone quality of certain words or even syllables.

These songs originated at a time of intensive friendship with the composer Ernest Chausson and his wife. Debussy was frequently a guest at Chausson's home, just as he was in 1893 when the third song "De Fleurs..." (The Flowers...) was composed and he signed it with the following dedication for Mme Chausson:

"To Madame E. Chausson, for her birthday, and to offer respectful homage to the charme she puts into being Madame Chausson."

The premiere of the last two songs was in February 1894 in Paris and on March 1 the whole cycle was presented in Brussels, each time sung by Thérèse Roger accompanied by the composer on the piano. Despite the successes of these concerts Debussy suffered from inferior complexes for a long period:

"There are still things I am not able to do - create masterpieces, for instance, or be really responsible - for I have the fault of thinking too much about myself and only seeing reality when it is forced upon me and then unsurmountable."

It is however possible that this being out of touch with reality is what distinguishes Debussy's work - the submergence in a very personal world of tones, an individual language to which Debussy always remained true.

(Erik Reischl, Translation Elisabeth Ann Krüger)