On This Day: Debussy and His Rêveries

 Claude Debussy was born on August 22, 1862 in a western suburb of Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. A musical prodigy, Debussy was inspired by the art and literature of his time to create emotional and inspirational compositions that are still studied and enjoyed by musicians today.  

Claude Debussy started to show promise on the piano at the young age of nine. He was enrolled in the Paris Conservatory to study piano and composition. Debussy loved art, music, and poetry and was inspired by them in his works. He drew inspiration from Richard Wagner, Dante Rosetti, Edgar Allen Poe, Claude Monet, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud. Much like the Impressionists and the Symbolists, Debussy’s music rejected traditional modes of composition and uses of instruments. In doing so, Debussy penned iconic works of music such as “Clair de lune,” “La fille aux cheveux de lin,” “La mer,” “Rêverie,” and “Pelléas et Mélisande.”  

In 1910, Debussy was interviewed by a New York Times reporter. In their conversation, Debussy asserted, “. . . there will always be an enormous breach between the soul of the man as he is and the soul he puts into his work. A man portrays himself in his work, it is true, but only part of himself. In real life, I cannot live up to the ideals I have in music . . . Everything about [art] is an illusion . . . it neither represents the man who produced it, nor life as it is. Art is a most wonderfully beautiful lie, but it is a lie.” The writer ended the piece by saying, “The interviewer looked at M. Debussy and had great difficulty in not shouting, ‘But M. Debussy, you are the absolute contradiction of what you have been saying!’ For as M. Debussy said that the artist and his work were entirely separated, he spoke with such warmth, he was so carried away, that one felt how the work of the French composer is exactly a reproduction of his soul—a sensitive, delicate soul, yet determined and firm. And at that moment, Debussy the man and Debussy the composer, were but one being.”   Learn more here:

  1. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Claude-Debussy/Evolution-of-his-work
  2. https://www.claudedebussy.org/2022/06/claude-debussy-biography.html
  3. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1910/06/26/104941892.html?pageNumber=21

On This Day: Vive le 14 juillet!

July 14, 1789 is considered the beginning of the French Revolution. While civil unrest had been building since earlier in the year, the Fall of the Bastille on July 14 was the first victory of the French people over the monarchy. In 1880, the day was declared a national holiday and has been celebrated ever since.  

The French Revolution was a class war. The Bourbon monarchy, who had ruled France since the 16th century, was being led in 1789 by King Louis XVI. His government spent money excessively, leading to economic recession. The average person in France couldn’t afford to feed their family while the bourgeoisie dripped with extravagant wealth. While the common people made up 98% of the country’s population, they had only a minority representation in the government, leaving them unable to make any changes.  

The French people became more and more outraged at their position until, on July 14, a mob moved toward the Bastille, a prison that held political dissidents. It was known that a stash of weapons and gunpowder was stored in the prison, and the mob determined to gain possession of it. The attackers fought off the guards and occupied the prison, releasing anyone who was held there. The French people eventually took the Bastille down to the ground, crushing what was seen as a symbol of the bourgeoisie’s oppression.  

Today, the 14th of July is la fête nationale and is celebrated much like the US’s 4th of July. There are parades, fireworks, and festivals throughout the country as the people of France celebrate their historic fight for liberté, égalité, and fraternité.  

Learn more here:

  1. https://www.history.com/topics/european-history/bastille-day
  2. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bastille-Day
  3. https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france/france-facts/symbols-of-the-republic/article/the-14th-of-july-bastille-day
  4. https://www.history.com/topics/european-history/french-revolution#french-revolution-ends-napoleon-s-rise

June History Hits: The Father of Existentialism

On June 21, 1905, Jean-Paul Sartre, a towering figure in twentieth-century philosophy and literature, was born. His insights into human existence, freedom, and responsibility continue to challenge readers and thinkers to this day.

As a child, Sartre excelled academically and earned scholarships to prestigious institutions, the education from which allowed him to cultivate passions for philosophy and writing and be introduced to phenomenology, or the study of the consciousness as experienced from a first-person point of view. This shaped his philosophical perspective, leading him to reject the idea of predestination and assert that individuals create their own fate through their choices and actions.

One of Sartre’s most famous concepts is the idea of radical freedom. According to Sartre, humans are condemned to be free, meaning that we are fully responsible for our choices and their subsequent consequences. This type of freedom is both exhilarating and daunting, as it demands that individuals confront the weight of their decisions without the comfort of predetermined values or moral absolutes. Sartre’s existentialism also delves into what we call anguish, existential dread, or ennui, which arises from the realization of our freedom and attendant responsibility. Essentially, these are caused by the fear of making the wrong choices. However, Sartre also argued that embracing this feeling is key to living an authentic life.

Beyond his philosophy, Sartre was a prolific writer who penned plays, novels, and essays that explored his existential themes as they worked among human relationships. One of his most renowned works is the play “Huis clos” or “No Exit,” where he famously declared that “hell is other people.” In this play, Sartre addresses the complexities of human interactions and the consequences of our actions on others. Sartre was also a political advocate committed to social justice. He believed that intellectuals had a moral obligation to participate in public life and actively challenge oppressive structures.

Learn more here: