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Subject: 'Ungraceful Noises Are Forbidden'
From: Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 15 Dec 2016 01:41:56 -0500

text/plain (74 lines)

Here is a commentary by Debussy on Rameau's 'Hippolyte et Aricie'

I have always liked his prose style and I'm sure he's right about... "a
musician of old-time France." As for the salad orchestra and the 'crumbs
fallen from the Wagnerian *Table d'hôte', *I understand that reaction


Abbe Pellegrin concocted a 'Hippolyte et Aricie' for Rameau, poetically
quite abominable, but having the makings of a varied and entertaining
spectacle, full of shepherds' entrances, choruses of priestesses, choirs of
hunters, and all kinds of musical interludes in which Rameau could show off
his prodigious powers of invention. 'Hippolyte et Aricie' was first played
at La Poupliniere's, and so great was its success that the Abbe Pellegrin
gave back the fifty pieces of gold he had demanded in case of failure
[....] The reason why French music forgot about Rameau for half a century
is one of those mysteries so common in the history of art. It can, perhaps,
be explained only by a fortuitous series of historical events. The queen,
Marie Antoinette, an Austrian through and through, imposed Gluck upon the
French taste; as a result our traditions were led astray, our desire for
clarity drowned, and having gone through Meyerbeer, we ended up, naturally
enough, with Richard Wagner. But why? Wagner was necessary for a blossoming
of the art in Germany -- a prodigious blossoming, although, in the end,
virtually funereal -- but it would not be unusual to doubt that he could
ever have any success in France, and influence our way of thinking so much.
If it is only the future that can put these things into perspective
objectively, we must at least be certain of one hard fact: that there is no
longer a French tradition.

Why do we not regret the loss of these charming ways in which music was
formerly written? And what has become of the subtly flowing syllables of
our language? We will find them again in 'Hippolyte et Aricie', that the
Opéra is going to revive, now in 1908. Despite the unfortunate reproach
that lies in the juxtaposition of these dates, we can be sure that the
feeling of the opera has been preserved intact, although perhaps the
setting, and something of the pomp of the music, have faded a little. It
could never seem 'out of place,' for it is one of those beautiful things
that will remain forever so, and despite the neglect of mankind, will never
completely die. Why have we not followed the advice contained in this
opera: to observe nature before we try copy it? Because we no longer have
the time, I suppose. So our music blindly adopts trivialities coming from
the direction of Italy, or legendary tales  --  crumbs fallen from the
Wagnerian *Table d'hôte...*. Rameau was a musician of old-time France, and
if he was obliged to concern himself with spectacle [in opera] he felt no
need to give up his right to compose real music. That may seem natural
enough, but we don't seem able to do it anymore. We have adopted a frenetic
way of shaking up the orchestra as if it were a salad, so that any hope of
real music must be completely abandoned. I fear that our ears have thus
lost their power to listen with the necessary delicacy to the music of
Rameau, in which all ungraceful noises are forbidden. Nevertheless, those
who do know how to listen will be afforded a polite but warm welcome. It is
annoying that we should have forgotten these ways which were once our own,
replacing them with our barbarous attitudes. We can be neither too
respectful nor too moved. Let us listen to Rameau with our full attention,
for a voice more thoroughly French has not been heard for many years at the


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