Clair de Bussy

Claude DebussyOn this day back in 1647, the inventor of the pressure cooker, Denis Papin was born. British tool inventor Henry Maudslay was born in 1771. Writer James Kirke Paulding was born in 1778. American astronomer Samuel Pierpont Langley (Yes, that Langley) was born in 1834. The painter of The Spirit of ’76, Archibald Willard was born in 1836.

Philosopher Max Scheler was born in 1874. The great writer and humorist Dorothy Parker was born in 1893. The great Nazi film director Leni Riefenstahl was born in 1902. Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in 1908. Screenwriter Julius Epstein was born in 1909.

Blues legend John Lee Hooker was born in 1917. Here he is doing “Boom Boom”:

Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury was born in 1920. Playwright James Kirkwood was born in 1925. And General Norman Schwarzkopf was born in 1934.

Novelist Annie Proulx is 78 today. I’m not that fond of her work, but I did learn a great deal from her. She is a very crisp writer and I admire that. But more than that, I learned that novels aren’t really about plot—or at least they don’t need to be. Actor Valerie Harper is 74. Actor Cindy Williams is 66. Here she is in one of my favorite films, The Conversation during which the original conversation (which we hear parts of many times throughout the film) takes place:

Tori Amos is 50. I don’t really know who she is. A singer I think. And comedian Kristen Wiig is 40.

The day, however, belongs to one of the greatest composers ever, Claude Debussy who was born on this day back in 1862. His music can be appreciated on so many levels that I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t it enjoy unless they were tone deaf. Mostly, the music is tonal but in that pentatonic and whole tone scale way that sounds simultaneously exotic and familiar. But he is rarely boring. He has a great sense of when to surprise the listener. In this regard, I think he is significantly better than Ravel, who I also admire.

If you want to listen to a rather sterile rendition of Clair de Lune, Google created a very beautiful and sweet Doodle for the occasion of Debussy’s 151 birthday. You could do a lot better musically. For one thing, you’ve probably heard Clair de Lune way too much already. I highly recommend listening to Debussy’s only opera Pelleas et Melisande. There are a few full versions online if you wish to listen to it. Or you could listen to any number of versions of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. There is a very amusing animation to it in the film Allegro Non Troppo. But let me introduce you to some of his later work. This is the eleventh piece of the first book of Preludes, La Danse de Puck. Give it a chance. It is a bit more difficult than a lot of his work, but it is ultimately charming:

Happy birthday Claude Debussy!

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