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Letters of Claude Debussy written from Bichain


These letters, forty-seven in number, are taken from the Correspondance de Claude Debussy 1872-1918 (Editions Gallimard 2005) published and annotated by François Lesure and Denis Herlin.


I thank Mrs. Anik Lesure for allowing us to reproduce them.


The most interesting passages of letters are reproduced (in chronological order). We have put in bold the remarks relating to his life in the hamlet, between brackets [ ] the supposed dates and have kept the same presentation as the original letters.





Claude Debussy to his father-in-law Germain Texier


                                                                  Bichain Castle, August 10/01

Dear daddy Texier,


Everything is found... ! The money and the ticket that I have enclosed. 

Don't forget to come back on Monday and all our best kisses.


                                               Claude Debussy


Claude Debussy to his editor Eugène Fromont


                                                                  [Bichain] Wednesday August 28/1901


My dear friend,


Excuse me for "acknowledging receipt" of the piano pieces, just today...

Alas!... the trees are going fast and the hours too; I work in such a way as

to make this stay in the country perfectly unbearable!

About Pour le piano, the title pleases me only slightly, the clovers are too big

and the letters seemed more elegant to me on the board, the print is white so as to

make one believe that Dupré puts water in his ink. Apart from all that, it's perfect.

Would you be kind enough to send, as soon as you receive my letter, a copy of the Nocturnes to Monsieur Longy*1

Here is his address:

G. Longy, in Drucat by Abbeville

- Somme - 

Tell me about Pelléas*2…

Very affectionately.


                                                          Claude Debussy


* I forgot to send it to him before I left.


  1. Saxophonist at the Boston Symphony Orchestra

  2. The engraving of the piano-song reduction.

Claude Debussy to his student Raoul Bardac


Saturday August 31, 1901


Dear friend,


(you can see that I do not hesitate about the protocol to be used in our epistolary relations,

so do not have more scruples than me in the future).

My delay in answering you is in no way due to any indifference whatsoever to the delicate

attention that your letter contained; only in this landscape of Bichain, where I now

regret to think that we will not be seeing you, the minutes pass without one

knowing exactly how.


I have the impression to be, especially morally, at the antipodes of Paris, the bad little

fever that worries us all (1) may at least not find anything here to exert its devastation,

it’s disappearing by itself, and decidedly the double movement of trees and clouds

is a counterpoint less poor than ours (2), we also find more admirable reasons not

to be clever ... now if the setting is beautiful, we must admit that the people

are much less; I don't even need to teach you that "the august gesture of the

sower" is completely forgotten, and, when the Angelus kindly orders men

to fall asleep, you don't see anyone taking a lithographic attitude(3).


(….) I'll be back in Paris around September 10, and I'm afraid I'll be annoyed by more people

than usual, that's to say, that by coming to see me you'll make me forget the fatigue.


                                                                                    Claude Debussy


Madame Debussy sends you her best regards.  


(1)  Lilly Debussy had come to rest at Bichain because of a persistent fever.

(2)  Claude Debussy gave composition lessons to Raoul Bardac. Counterpoint is a musical

composition technique consisting of superimposing melodic lines. 

(3)  This is a reference to Millet's Angelus, a famous painting whose numerous lithographs

adorned the bourgeois salons of the time.



Claude Debussy to Pierre Louÿs


                                                                             Bichain on September 2, 1901



Dear Pierre,

             I had walked for a long time in the company of this little neurasthenic

Mélisande (1) who can only support violins when divided into 18 parts...

…(she is so weak); suddenly she says to me:

Last night I dreamt of King Pausole (2), a very brave man, and you did not know how

to take too much care in composing for his royal person this symphony in which must

come alive, proclaimed by the ardor of the trumpets, the admirable journey he made

to find things that had never been lost.

At that moment the Angelus, by the voice of a small faithful and even

dumbfounded bell, ordered the fields to fall asleep...

This was not lost for everyone... I found there the opportunity for rhythmic

combinations, the detail of which would make a Basque drum quiver

I'm going back to Paris next Thursday and I think I'll be able to join you to tell you

the rest, it will always be a moment during which I won't think about the boredom

that the place called the Opéra Comique represents for me (3).

                                                              Your faithful,   

                                                                             Claude Debussy


Madame Debussy sends you her best regards.


(1) Claude Debussy was working on the orchestration of his opera Pelléas et Mélisande

     whose rehearsals were about to begin.

(2) Claude Debussy was trying to work on a piece of music for Pierre Louÿs, Le Roi Pausole.

(3) The concert hall where the performances of Pelléas et Mélisande were to take place.

Claude Debussy to his publisher Eugène Fromont


                                                                  Bichain Monday September 2, 1901

My dear friend


 I am very worried about Pelléas ?... you are not giving me any news

as I begged you, and, once again, that worries me.

Aren't you convinced that there is not a day to lose?

One word as soon as possible, please.

Yours truly


                                                          Claude Debussy


Claude Debussy to Maurice Curnonsky (1)


Bichain, September 8, 1901


Dear friend,

This summer I was nourished by the strong reading that the thirty volumes of

Rocambole represent (one can even carry them with outstretched arms to complete

the treatment), so the most fanciful march in events can no longer surprise me.

Madame Debussy used to call us "little doormats" – Wipe your feet, please -

and we would go on to other exercises to cut short marks of emotions as useless

as they are debilitating. ...]

all summer long, I went back to the land, to elementary nature and to "good people", 

without history, that one meets in the fields and who, when a small faithful & even dumbfounded bell rings the Angelus that orders the fields to fall asleep, do not take lithographic attitudes, but simply go to sleep. […]


(1) Novelist, journalist "prince of gastronomes".

Claude Debussy to Jean Marnold (1)

Bichain, by Villeneuve la Guyard, Yonne


July 29, 1902


Dear Sir, would you please excuse me to your brother, whom I forgot the address,

for having so badly fulfilled my commitments.....but "I am a man like the others" and

I had to pay the price for eight months of tiredness by a period of complete exhaustion

which made me assimilate the act to write a line to that of juggling with twenty kilogram weights!

I am writing to you among the hens and roosters and other poultry that care

infinitely more about a grain of wheat than about the author of Pelléas.

They add the quietest disrespect to it and make me understand by natural cries

that it cannot be a question of any aesthetics  (…)

Again, my apologies and may these few lines be an opportunity to affirm my

friendship to you.


                                                                                 Claude Debussy


(1) Musical Critic


Claude Debussy to Andre Messager (1)


Bichain, end of July 1902

Thank you, very dear friend, for answering me right away. When I am without news

from you, I look like a small path where no one passes (you see that

from here… ?)


Lilly is a little better. That is, she has increased her collection of small

pebbles. It sounds red and mean to you that I don't wish on anyone.

I have received the fifth act of Pelléas here and I hope nothing will stand in the way of it

appear on the date you indicate to me.

Is this an idea, but it seems to me that you are not very well with life? At

instead of going ... to hell, as you intend (take care to find

something from London), you'd better come see your two little friends.
You would be pampered. If it's not castle life, it would be at the

minus the calm and peaceful life in the fields, which has been said to soothe souls

tired of metropolitan noises and gossip - dig that idea in the

brilliant Cécil Hotel (2) where I believe that one should take, after some time,

hatred of one's fellow man, so many of them can be encountered. (Except when I'm there,

as you were kind enough to recall).

There I go again ... not digging up my garden, but looking at my step-

father dig his own and that is enough for my agricultural desires.

We kiss you both


Your devoted old man


Claude Debussy


(1) Conductor and composer who conducted the first performances of Pelléas et Mélisande.

(2) Hotel where Messager lived in London, during his conduct of the Covent Garden Opera.


Claude Debussy to his publisher Jacques Durand


August 10, 1902, Bichain, Yonne


Dear friend,


Excuse my delay !… I was at my wife's parents' house in the extreme

Burgundy, and only returned to Bichain last night. I almost finished

review the orchestral score of La Damoiselle (1) .


I am gradually forgetting Pelléas, the audience of the Opéra Comique, and it is a charm for

me. I am sending you the piano and singing test with my very

sincere friendship ...


(1) La Damoiselle Elue ,  work composed in 1887-88, revised in 1902


Claude Debussy...


Bichain August 14, 1902


My dear friend,

I forgot to tell you ……….


Claude Debussy...


Bichain, August 1902


Dear friend,


First of all, thank you for the meticulous care you take of my music.

As for the format, I definitely prefer the piano and vocal score.

Only couldn't we have a little more margin? I think this is due to

a question of paper.

The material I have can't really be of much use, as I told you, it

would just be extra work, perhaps useless? As I have every

confidence in your eye I don't think I need to review the proof before

the print run.

I hope your stomach is back to normal. Nothing seems more painful to me than having to watch one's own digestion: it's a policeman's job! As for dieting, I think it's better to copy the women, even though it's quite debilitating.


With kind regards

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy to his friend Paul-Jean Toulet

                                  Bichain, by Villeneuve-la-Guyard, Yonne,  September 1902


How are you, dear old fellow? I was still hearing from you lately - God knows in

what a wonderful way - through the Vie Parisienne, but now nothing.

I beg you to feel sorry for me about this lack of news and put a stop to it

if it doesn't bother you too much. I would also like to hear from As you like(1) ? 

I think about it all the time and would like to think about it through you...

(you won't blame me , will you?).

Besides, I work assiduously at doing nothing and practice a sustained

contemplation of something vague enough to be unable to designate

it otherwise. Finally, I try to build up an iron constitution with steel

muscles - like a young locomotive. This is the grace I wish you

by affirming my solid and imperturbable friendship..


                                                                    Claude Debussy


PS. If Curnonsky is within your wall, would you kiss him on the forehead for me.
PS. I'm here for 10 more days.


(1)  Toulet was working on an adaptation of Shakespeare's As You Like It, 

       and Debussy was to write the music .

Claude Debussy to Jacques Morland (1)


     Bichain August 1902


(...) as to express ideas on the German influence...


(1) Journalist   


Claude Debussy to Henri Busser (1)


     Bichain, early September 1902

My dear friend,

I'm still in the countryside...


(1)  Composer and conductor                                   


Claude Debussy to Andre Messager


     (Bichain) Tuesday, September 2, 1902


Dear friend,


Through a letter which my wife receives from Miss Garden, I learn that your little girl is ill. I cannot tell you how blind and stupid I find this destiny that chooses the most charming little beings to give us worry. All the same, I want to believe that there is no harm and it is my dearest wish to learn it from you, if you can do it without boredom.

Our devoted affection to both

Your old

Claude Debussy


Claude Debussy to Nicolas G. Coronio (1)


     Bichain, early September 1902


My dear friend,

(…) Moreover, during these last months I have cultivated a vast field of laziness whose harvests have been marvelous

And the invention of stationery seemed to me something absolutely barbaric

... All my projects came to be washed up on the banks of a charming

little river. I spent the most delightfully idle hours there.

… It was still music, but I had absolutely nothing to do with it,

if not just like the simple blade of grass! 

…I'm going back to Paris on the 15th of this month….


... I am, as usual, your devoted friend


                                                                                     Claude Debussy


(1)  Pupil of Debussy, pianist and composer of Greek origin.

Claude Debussy to André Messager


     September 8, 1902

Bichain, by Villeneuve-la-Guyard




... I didn't write a note... It's not to brag, but I was like

a squeezed lemon for a long time, and my poor brains didn't

want to know anything anymore... To do what I want,

I have to renew myself completely. Starting new work seems

to me a bit like a somersault where you risk breaking your back.

My wife is doing better, if she doesn't have the flowery complexion

of a farmer, she at least has the attributions, spending her life

among the animals that, in this country as in many others,

are far superior to people.


                                                                                         Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy to his publisher Jacques Durand


Bichain, July 1903


Dear friend,


I apologize for not replying to your letter right away. This one arrived

the day we were leaving for the countryside, that is to say in disorder.

When I arrived here, in a barely installed house, it took me some time

to find a decent place to write to you.


I hope to be able to start working soon and send you miles of music.

In the meantime, believe me, your affectionate devoted.


                                                                      Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy to Carol-Bérard (1)


Bichain, between July 9 and 19, 1903


[Debussy asked that he send him issues of Gil Blas, the journal in which Debussy wrote articles].

Claude Debussy to Carol-Bérard (1)


Bichain, between July 9 and 19, 1903


We are more or less settled, it's a country life, much

simpler than J.J. Rousseau described, but not everyone

can get up at dawn. (…)


(1)  Painter, poet and composer

Claude Debussy to André Messager


Bichain by Villeneuve-la-Guyard,

between July 9 and 14, 1903


Dearest friend,


It seems to me that you are haggling with me over the pleasure of reading you,

that said, without any criticism and with the natural excuses that my

friendship reserves for you exclusively. Since my last letter I have spent many

bad days... my poor little Lilly has not stopped suffering. And here we

are in the country, from which I dare not hope for too much good,

but at least some relief. Life is sad, my old Messenger;  there are hours

when I find that God is not very kind to us, so much does he reserve

for us a lot of sneaky pitfalls which cut off the arms and legs of the best

good will to be heroic.

And you, my dear friend, how is life and London ? After the formal

boredom of receiving his Excellency Loubet (from Tunis) (1),  as Willy would

probably say, have you found peace again? Are you as happy as you could wish for ?

Please be kind enough to apologize profusely to Mélisande (2), I had to write to her

and then came the bad moments that discouraged me so much. Talking about

one's grief to those one loves is, I believe, only possible once it has calmed down

a bit. At the time it only multiplies the pain. Don't let her be angry with me and

know that my heart is not made of an insensitive metal. For you, go quickly

to this little salon that I think of too often, and write a nice letter to your old

Claude who is not very cheerful.

We embrace you both and ask you to save some for Miss Mary Garden,

Queen of Allemonde (3) and other places.


your old

Claude Debussy


(1) The President Loubet was on an official trip to London.

(2) Mary Garden, Mélisande’s interpreter, who was in London with Messenger.

(3) The kingdom imagined by Maeterlinck in Pelléas et Mélisande.

Claude Debussy to his editor Eugène Fromont


July 14, 1903, Bichain, by Villeneuve-la-Guyard (Yonne)

Dear friend,

Here we are far from the vain noise of the capitals and July 14 comes upon us

very calm and muted.


Very best regards from both of us.


                                                                             Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy to his editor Eugène Fromont


[between July 15 and 23, 1903]

Bichain, by Villeneuve-la-Guyard (Yonne)



We're both pretty well, only it's raining and we're not

very strong on hoof walking, which makes walks impossible.

Claude Debussy to his editor Eugène Fromont


                                                                [ July 23rd, 1903]

                                                    Bichain, by Villeneuve-la-Guyard (Yonne)



Don't worry anymore about the piano I was telling you about, I'll arrange it

with a retailer in Montereau (…)

                                                                        C. Debussy

Claude Debussy to Pierre Louÿs                                     


                                             Bichain near Villeneuve-la-Guyard, July 19, 1903


All the same... I am not as famous as Victor Hugo or Liane de Pougy and

yet I received your letter... No, I have not forgotten Sanguines (1)  and I have already

walked with them, in a countryside filled with summer, mosquitoes and a

silence that one would like to believe orphaned (2). Sometimes I still regret

the less dense trees of the avenue de Villiers (3)... I hope to work so as to forget

everything except the hamlet of Boulainvilliers (4).


(1)  Collection of tales and short stories by Pierre Louÿs, 1903.

(2)  The sound of the French horn sorrows in the woods

     of a pain we want to believe orphaned - Paul Verlaine

(3)  Claude Debussy lived at 58, rue Cardinet, crossed very close by Avenue de Villiers.

(4)  Pierre Louÿs lived in the hamlet of Boulainvilliers in Paris..

Claude Debussy to Pierre Louÿs                                     


                                          Bichain near Villeneuve-la-Guyard, [end of July1903]


Are you going to poison my vacation by leaving me without news of you?

                                                                   Your old man


Claude Debussy to Jacques Durand                                     


                                          Bichain near Villeneuve-la-Guyard, [end of July 1903]

Dear friend,

(...) I have worked a lot for you and my music is perhaps better than my

literature ?


Yours faithfully

                                                                        Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy to Pierre Louÿs who was in Algeria                                     



                                     Bichain by Villeneuve-la-Guyard, early August 1903


Excuse me... For the past few days now, I have been: the Man-who-works-at-a-

fantasy-for-saxophone-alto-in-E.flat (say that three times without breathing...) (1)

Since this fantasy has been ordered, paid for, eaten for more than a year,

it seems to me that I am late? At first it did not amuse me very much, then I

couldn't have written you a pretty neat letter. The saxophone is a reed animal,

whose habits I  know little about. Does it like the romantic sweetness of

clarinets or the somewhat crude irony of the sarrusophone (or double bass)?

Finally, I made him whisper melancholic phrases, under military drum rolls.


The saxophone, like the Grand Duchess, must like the military (2)... 

The whole thing is called Arabic Rhapsody ... (long live the Army all the same).

You see that in the countryside you are never bored? The key is not to

believe that the sun that sets on the hillsides of Bichain is not the same

as the one that falls asleep on the whiteness of the terraces of Biskra...

I went to Sens. There is a beautiful cathedral and very bulky soldiers.

It's a good place to eat properly and drink a Pommard that would panic

Kurnonsky. That’s about it regarding excursions... Also, to fill this gap

I wrote a piano piece entitled Une soirée dans Grenade (3) And that's it!

When you have a minute to lose, do not forget that you can do better than

devoting it to me... You are the only person from whom it is not unpleasant for

me to hear about Paris, I even go so far as to regret it thinking that you live there.

                                                           Your old devoted

                                                                                       Claude Debussy


(1)  Rhapsody for orchestra and saxophone commissioned by Elisa Hall, President of the

       Orchestral Club of Boston. Completed by Roger Ducasse, it was not performed until 1919.

 (2)  The aria from Offenbach's La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein.

 (3)  The third of the Estampes pour piano.

Claude Debussy to Jacques Durand                                     


                                        Bichain by Villeneuve-la-Guyard, August 21, 1903


Dear friend,

I could not answer you yesterday, having gone to Montereau for "my land"!...

I had to come across an old man with shaky irony, but tenacious, who one

day wants to sell, and the next day does not want to any more... He asks

for three thousand francs; only, there is a pond in this land which would

be bought back a thousand francs by the city, for reasons of alignment.

It's a lot of fuss and I'm afraid that my dreams of ownership are in this pond...

All this to respond to your kind intervention in my projects. And let's come back

to Prints. If the copyright (1) is compulsory on the cover, you are right to remove

the indication of the year under the cartouche (about this one, I would like you to

take the one that adorns the cover of Pelléas; it would look very good on Ingres paper.

If you wish, we will put the indication of the year to the last page, thus

written, July 1903.

For the dedication, I would stick to the only J. E. Blanche, the other characters

are too important for there to be no disproportion between their considerable

names, and the little music attached to them.

You will have La Soirée dans Grenade the day after tomorrow… with the assurance

of my affectionate friendship.


                                                        Claude Debussy


(1)  Mention of US legal deposit.

Claude Debussy to his publisher  Jacques Durand                                     


             Bichain, Thursday, August 27, 1903


Dear friend,


No. 8 is perfect... only now it seems to me that the original color chosen

for the letter will be quite hard? I suggest the following combination which

would be quite admirable:



                         (Pale gold) 



                          (blue)                  (blue)                                                 

                                      Pagodes - La Soirée dans Grenade                  

                                                     Jardins sous la pluie                           



                                                                                 (pale gold)                   



The blue would be that of the above address (1), the gold, pale yellow.

Gold print is no longer difficult or too expensive, since some Ollendorf

books are coated with gold.

Believe me, I know how much I am grateful to you for flattering my publishing

obsession; like all maniacs, I am easily taken in by that side of things.

                                                        My affectionate friendship.


                                                                                   Claude Debussy              


(1) Referring to the author's address printed in blue on his letterhead

Claude Debussy to Paul-jean Toulet                                    



                                                        Bichain by Villeneuve-la-Guyard (Yonne)

                                                                            Friday, August 28, 1903


Dear friend,

if the condition of friends did not prohibit all painful discussions, I would have

told you long ago how much I regretted your relations with opium... an imagination

as delicate as yours must precisely have suffered from it. And life warns you

a bit harshly (as it always does) that you must have nothing to do with this sinister

drug; it therefore becomes inappropriate to tell you more about it.

While you were getting back in touch with the characters of As you like it, which pleases

me, not having lost hope that you would do something very well with them , I worked at

the Diable dans le beffroi ( (1) Excuse me and don't see any resentment in that,

but simply the need to achieve, musically, certain projects, which would become

an embarrassment to me if I postponed them too long.

This can in no way make me forget that I owe double care: to your friendship,

to Shakespeare. And above all to this incomparable Rosalinde whom I beg you

not to love, I would become able to envy the care you take of her.

Life in the countryside lets nothing pass by, and I have nothing to talk about.

Yet I visited Sens. There is a beautiful cathedral, soldiers according to the

formula of General André (2).  You can eat very well there and drink a Pommard

that Kurnonsky would talk about all his life.


                                                     Your friend

                                                                           Claude Debussy


(1)  This is one of the two tales by Edgar Poe on which Debussy worked until the end:  

       The Fall of the House of Usher and The Devil in the Belfry

(2)  General André, Minister of War in the Waldeck-Rousseau cabinet

       who tried to improve the military condition.


Claude Debussy to his student Raoul Bardac


                                                                                                 [late August 1903]

                                                       Bichain by Villeneuve-la-Guyard (Yonne)


My dear friend,


your father’s decisions (...)

                                                                      My affectionate friendship

Madame Debussy sends her best regards to Madame your mother (1) and pities

you with all her heart.


(1) Who will be Debussy's second wife.

Claude Debussy to Edouard Colonne                                                                                                       


                                                                                                 [late August 1903]

                                                       Bichain by Villeneuve-la-Guyard (Yonne)


My dear Mr. Colonne,


Your kind letter finds me in the countryside where I try to work as

well as possible despite the advice to do nothing that the charm

of old and quiet trees dispenses.

I have a lot of things going on (…)


Claude Debussy to his friend Charles Levadé (1)                                                                                                  


Bichain, Friday, September 4, 1903


Dear friend, , I don't want to write to you "the history of the art of orchestrating

through the centuries" because I didn't bring to the country the documents

necessary for this history; besides, I don't feel any taste for it. In short,

the art of orchestration can best be learned by listening to the noise

of leaves stirred by the breeze than by consulting treatises  in which the

instruments look like anatomical pieces and which, moreover, provide poor

information on the countless ways of mixing these instruments together.

What you are asking me about the tablature is extremely delicate. Who assures

you that this tablature will be exactly the one you need? In any case, here it is:

3 flutes, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 2 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets,

3 trombones, 1 tuba, 2 harps.

(1)  Prix de Rome 1899, this musician had probably known Debussy at the time when the latter frequented the cabaret du Chat Noir and the Auberge du Clou. He was a friend of Eric Satie


Claude Debussy to his publisher Jacques Durand                                                                                                


                                                                                                [ September 6, 1903]

                                                                                       Bichain. Sunday.

Dear friend,


The inside title (1) is perfect. As for the cover, if it is no longer a "package",

all the letters do not seem to point in the same direction! 

"Where do they run to?" some will say... "at Durand et fils,

4 place de la Madeleine " will answer the others.


Apart from that, the colors are charming and I am very happy with Mr. Ingres (2).


The Bel-Ebat estate (3) is a beautiful one... and I am amazed

how much royalties it would take to get me a similar one!


My affectionate friendship


                                                                              Claude Debussy


(1)  Of Piano Prints.

(2)  The cover was made of Ingres paper.

(3)  Jacques Durand’s property located in Avon (Seine-et-Marne).  


Claude Debussy to André Messager                          


                                                            Bichain, Monday, September 7, 1903


(…) It is not to boast, but God damn it! music is sometimes the most unbearable

shrew in this world (it contains a damned lot of it). You can't imagine the trouble

I took to make her agree to grant me some favors...

Don't tell me about those people who sit on your lap for five minutes and then

slip away to go for a run. God knows where!

Seeing this attitude, I worked on the booklet of the Diable dans le beffroi

(The devil in the belfry).  When I come back to Paris, I will read this to you.

I will not hide from you any more than it will be with a certain emotion,

the emotion inseparable from a first start, if I dare express myself in the

somewhat stunning style of journalists. I have also written three piano pieces

of which I especially like the following titles: Pagodes, La Soirée

dans Grenade, Jardins sous la pluie. When you can't afford to travel,

you have to make up for it with imagination. The truth forces me to admit

that there are other ways than piano pieces.


The friendship of your two faithful,

                                                                Claude Debussy


Claude Debussy to his friend Charles Levadé


Bichain, mid-September, 1903


… for the effect….

Art is the service of Beauty and joy, not personal speculation…..


Claude Debussy to André Messager


                                              Bichain, Saturday, September 12, 1903

       Dear friend,

There is no question of a Quintet on my shelves. I am working on three

symphonic sketches entitled: 1° Mer belle aux îles Sanguinaires;

2° Jeu de vagues; 3° Le Vent fait danser la mer; under the

title La Mer (1)

You may not know that I was promised to the beautiful career of a sailor,

and that only the hazards of existence have made me branch off. Nevertheless,

I have kept a sincere passion for it.

You will tell me that the ocean does not precisely bathe the Burgundian

hillsides... ! And that it could well look like studio landscapes ! But I have 

countless memories; that is better, in my opinion, than a reality whose

charm generally weighs too much on your mind.

Don't be too hasty to say: the finished. the script is pretty much

complete (2), the color of the music I want to use is pretty much fixed;

there are still a lot of sleepless nights and great hope at the end of it all.

As for the people who are amiable enough to hope that I will never be able

to get out of Pelléas, they carefully cover their eyes. They don't know that if that

were to happen, I would immediately start growing pineapples in my room,

considering that the most annoying thing is to "start again". It is likely that

the same people will find it scandalous to have abandoned the shadow

of Mélisande for the ironic pirouette of the Diable, and the pretext to accuse me

once more of weirdness.

Remember your promise for which your two friends are forever attached.

                 I embrace you with all affection.

                                                       Claude Debussy


The little woman is not too bad and sends you her prettiest smile.


(1) The title of the first movement borrowed from a short story by Camille Mauclair was to be

    changed to De l’aube à midi sur la mer, and that of the third movement to Dialogue du vent et

     de la mer..

(2) Only the libretto of the Diable dans le beffroi, based on Edgar Poe's tale, will be sketched.


Claude Debussy to his publisher Jacques Durand


Bichain, Saturday, September 12, 1903


My dear friend,


Excuse me for being late. After all I may have put a little too much effort

on my intellectual machine, because the annoying relaxation occured and I felt

the need to leave some kind of paper for the exclusive contemplation of the

various species of trees that adorn the surroundings of Bichain.

The disposition you sent me is perfect: all the same I am a little confused to

worry you so much, especially since you put a delicate good grace in

satisfying my cruel mania... I say cruel, because it is transposed…

musically, and I suffer much more than vain people think.

What would you say about this:

La Mer

Three symphonic sketches for orchestra

I.   Mer belle aux îles Sanguinaires

II.  Jeux de vagues

III. Le vent fait danser la Mer.

This is what I am working on, based on many memories, and that

I am trying to finish here.


Your affectionately devoted

                                                                Claude Debussy


Claude Debussy to Lucie Foreau, singer


                                                                         [mid-September 1903] at Bichain

                                                                    by Villeneuve-la-Guyard (Yonne)



(…) may I beg you not to believe too much in the difficulty of my music.

It is a noise made by people who don't know my music, or who

know it badly, at your choice.


Believe, Miss, in my respectful devotion


                                                           Claude Debussy


Claude Debussy to his publisher  Jacques Durand

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Bichain, [Friday, September 18, 1903]


Dear friend,


I was just about to send you the proofs (1)... You will see on page 8 of

Jardins sous la pluie, that one measure is missing; it is an oversight on

my part, because it is not in the manuscript. Yet it is necessary, as for

the number; the divine number, as Plato and Miss X of Z said, each

for different reasons, it is true.

I am back to the sad music paper, my excursions now take place around

my table: not everyone can be a sportsman!


You should go back to studying the piano so that you don't have to worry about

an arbitrary abandonment the two Estampes nightmare of your fingers!

 I work at La Mer… if God will be kind to me, it will be very advanced

when I return.


My respectful homage to Mrs. J. Durand and my affectionate friendship for you.


                                                        Claude Debussy

(1) Des Estampes for piano


Claude Debussy to Octave Maus (1)

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Bichain by Villeneuve-la-Guyard [mid-September,1903]


My dear friend, , I linger in the autumn countryside, forgetting all

about musical protocol, including competitions, which are one of its main


The question raised by your letter seems insoluble to me...As long as there

are men there will be competitions. Whether these contests are judged in

public or in private, it will be quite the same. In addition, it would be

recommended that the rage to multiply the means of disclosure in art be

appeased, for there will soon be infinitely more false artists than true art -

I'm not even sure that this time hasn't already expired? It might be enough

to suppress all publicity as well as all benefits to get things and people right,

in the name of this forgotten truth?  "art is completely useless".


                 Believe, my dear Maus, in my affectionate cordiality.


                                                                             Claude Debussy


(1)  In Brussels Octave Maus was the leader of the group of the Libre Esthétique.

      In 1894 he had organized a concert of Debussy's works as part of an

      exhibition that brought together Renoir, Gauguin, Redon, Sisley, Pissaro, Signac

      and Maurice Denis. In his letter he questioned the usefulness of competitive examinations

      in conservatories.

Claude Debussy to Eugène Fromont

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Bichain, Sunday 20 September /03


My dear Fromont,


Would you be kind enough… (…)


Claude Debussy to his publisher  Jacques Durand

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Bichain September 30, 1903


My dear friend,


I was a little late in replying to your last letter, wanting to enjoy

my last beautiful days of peace. Alas! the joy of living with the

good old trees is over, we will have to come back among the "good people of Paris"

and listen to painted cardboard music again. Luckily there will always be

the friendly and cordial place that the 4 de la place de la Madeleine represents

for me, otherwise I confess my lack of enthusiasm.


The unpublished Debussy announced by the gentle Colonne is no less

so for me! He has written to me about it, but I do not yet know what I

will give him; in my plans : La Mer is destined to Chevillard


See you soon, dear friend, believe in my solidarity.


                                                                   Claude Debussy


Claude Debussy to Charles Levadé


                                                                           [Bichain, mid-September 1903]


(…)(...) try to remain an artist, you can do it more easily than another. Between us,

it is a title that many of our contemporaries arbitrarily bear. For morality it is

necessary that there be a real one from time to time. (…)

Claude Debussy to Edouard Colonne  (1)



                                                                  Wednesday 30 September /03.


My dear Mr. Colonne,

I didn’t want to write to you before I had the "precise thing" you asked me...

It was a "Concert" in the form and with the special orchestra of those

of J.S. Bach. Alas, I will not have finished in time; although I have worked

hard on it, I still have too many things to work out.


My cordial thanks and my best memory,


                                                        Claude Debussy


(1)  Conductor and violinist, founder of Les Concerts Colonne.

 Claude Debussy to his editor Eugène Fromont


                                                                            Wednesday 30 September /03


My dear Fromont, we are leaving for Paris tomorrow; so don't send me anything more ,

here, the joy of living with good old trees is dead, we'll have to come back and

howl among the wolves


See you soon dear friend, my affectionate friendship,


                                                        Claude Debussy

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