Saturday, April 28, 2012

Debussy at Musée L'Orangerie

("The Golden Isles", by Henri-Edmond Cross, via Musée d'Orsay)

I haven't read much on the blogs about "Debussy, La Musique et Les Arts," the fantastic exhibit going on now at Musée de l'Orangerie. This stunning show, illuminating the connection between Claude Debussy and the artists of his time who inspired him, has found the perfect home at Musée l'Orangerie, the Impressionist arm of Musée d'Orsay and home to a multitude of Monets, nestled just across the Seine in the Jardin des Tuileries.

Though a longtime Debussy admirer, I had no idea how much he was inspired by the artists who surrounded him. "I love pictures almost as much as I love music," he said in 1911. In his struggling years before finding success with Pelleas and Melisande, Debussy was taken in by many creative friends, notably the painter Henry Lerolle, composer Ernest Chausson and Arthur Fontaine. They introduced him to works by the likes of Degas and Renoir, and through friendships with Camille Claudel and Pierre Louÿs, Debussy found inspiration in the seascapes of Impressionism, the gentle portraits of the pre-Raphaelites and the quotidian softness of pointillism.

But perhaps Debussy's greatest muse was the work of the Symbolists, from the poetry of Baudelaire to the paintings of Maurice Denis, much of whose work is represented at this exhibition.

("L'Echelle Dans Le Feuillage" by Maurice Denis, via ArtNet)

Listening to Debussy's tender, glitteringly emotive compositions, it's easy to see the correlation between the artists he loved and the music he created. Seeing the ethereal, watery paintings of J.M.W. Turner, the full-lipped sensuality of Rossetti's "The Blessed Damozel" (for which Debussy composed its own piece) and the strange blend of soft curves and sharply contrasted colors of the Symbolists, Debussy's music sounds as though he's bringing to life the flourishing, languid scenes that so captured his eyes.

("Nuit d'Été" by Winslow Homer)

The greatest example of this creative collaboration is in "The Afternoon of A Faun." The original poem by Stéphane Mallarmé, who believed in the "musicality of literature," was illustrated by Manet and later set to music by Debussy, for a ballet which was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. Now that is an orgy of creativity.

The only thing missing from this exhibit is music to listen to while wandering from painting to sculpture to photograph. (That might be available on the audio guide, but I'm too cheap for that.) But have no fear: in tandem with the exhibit, the Musée d'Orsay has organized a number of free Debussy concerts. I'm a little late with this post so there's only one left: next Friday, May 4th. Entry is FREE but reservation is required, so be sure to call 01 44 50 43 01 to ensure your place. Even if you don't make it to that, I strongly recommend seeing this exhibit before it closes June 11th!

Tickets between 5-9€, May 4th concert FREE
Now through June 11th
Musée de l'Orangerie
Métro: M1, M8 and M12 to Concorde

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