Claude Debussy

Three summers at Bichain

by  Marie Jeanne Baeli

1901
1902
1903

During the summer of 1901, the composer Claude Debussy came to settle in the Yonne for a month’s stay with his wife Lilly. The couple was welcomed by Lilly's parents in the small hamlet of Bichain, in the town of Villeneuve la Guyard, located on the border of Burgundy and Ile-de-France, in the countryside. It was an ideal place, as much for the rest of the frequently ailing young woman, as for the work of the composer who finished writing the orchestral score of his opera Pelléas et Mélisande.

 

Thanks to the letters and scores written at Bichain, a few photos, testimony of the inhabitants of the village whose parents had known Debussy and to the abundant work of musicologists, we were able to accurately trace the stay of the composer as well as those which followed in 1902 and 1903, during which major works were composed: : Estampes and La Mer.

Hamlet of Bichain
in 1900

Summer 1901, from August 6 to September 10

 

"We are leaving on Monday for Burgundy for a month and a few days..."

From Paris where he lived in the new district of Plaine Monceau, it was how he announced his departure for Bichain, on August 2nd, to his friend Pierre Louÿs. A stay which was to allow Lilly to recover from a persistent fever and regain strength in the fresh air of the Burgundy countryside.

 

On August 31st 1901, he wrote to his student Raoul Bardac, to whom he gave composition lessons, that he worried about Lilly's health, refers to the counterpoint which, in musical composition, is the superposition of two melodic movements, and laments that the peasants are less beautiful than those represented at the time by the lithographs of the painter Jean-François Millet:

"In this landscape of Bichain, where I now regret to think that we will not see you, the minutes go by without anyone knowing exactly how."

 

I have the impression to be, especially morally, at the antipodes of Paris, the bad little fever which worries us at least can't wreak its havoc here, it disappears all by itself, and decidedly the double movement of trees and clouds is a less poor counterpoint than ours; there are also admirable reasons for not being too clever ... now if the setting is beautiful, we must admit that the people are less so; I don't even need to teach you that "the august gesture of the sower" is completely forgotten, and, when the Angelus gently orders men to fall asleep, you don't see anyone taking a lithographic attitude.……

I will return to Paris around September 10th … "

On September 2nd, he rests from having "walked for a long time in the company of this little neurasthenic Mélisande," evoking his work in writing the orchestral score of his opera.

Some musical measures for the manuscript of Pierre Louÿs, Le roi Pausole and the reading of Aventures de Rocambole by Ponson du Terrail were added.

He feared returning to Paris: Pelléas et Mélisande, scheduled for April 1902 at the Opéra Comique, a place he considered ill-suited to the rare character of his work.


In this same letter of September 2nd, he expressed

"the boredom of the place they call the Opéra Comique."

Claude and Lilly Debussy at Bichain, Summer 1901

  Claude Debussy Museum,  Saint-Germain–en –Laye,

Fonds Marcel Dietschy

Bichain, at the time of Debussy

In the valley of the Yonne, on the border of Burgundy and the Ile de France is located the small hamlet of Bichain which depends on the town of Villeneuve-la-Guyard.

Below the road to Paris and crossed by the Paris-Lyon railway line, it consisted of farms engaged in polyculture, a landscape typical of rural France at the time: fields, vineyards, orchards , woods, a river.

Bichain seen from the national road

Notre Dame Street

Saint Jean Street

The wash house on the river

Landscape near the village

Grand Street (now Saint jean Street)

Extract from the testimony of Mr Jean Emile Masson, resident of Bichain, May 12, 2000..

My grandparents Louis and Eugénie Masson told me some anecdotes from the daily life of the man who was “Monsieur Claude” for the locals.

At the time, the work on the land was done by tenants of a few acres belonging to wealthy owners. Meadows, some vines and apple trees, a horse, cows, poultry, rabbits, a pig: we lived in self-sufficiency, working hard but happy, to the rhythm of the seasons, festivals, fairs and markets. On Sundays, the men are at the café-grocery store for games of Belote, Stuck shackle or Tarot. Debussy quickly adapted to this environment, tired of his Parisian battles against the clichés of a dying art, he is so happy to be able to reenergize himself in the countryside not too far from Paris with the possibility of a quick visit by train. He befriended my grandparents and comes every night to get fresh milk, eggs or vegetables. He had no children and liked to play the whistle with my aunt Cécile who was seven years old at the time.

 

 

Testimony of Mademoiselle Jeanne Blanc, resident of Villeneuve la Guyard, March 19, 2000

My mother, Madame Masson, told me that in her childhood she remembered Claude Debussy, just married to Lilly. He lived in the Chemin des Princes, a house adjoining the stable of her grandparents’ farm and complained that at night, the horse kicked the wall and that he could not sleep. So my grandmother, Madame Masson Caillat, in agreement with her great grandparents, Mr and Mme Bachelet, offered him “the beautiful room” of the house they owned passage Chelau, on Notre Dame Street. So he went to sleep there. He was very simple and sociable. Every Saturday, he came to eat “pot-au-feu” with the Masson. My grandmother took out the crystal glasses and every time someone knocked on a glass, bothered by the unexpected sound, he put his finger on the glass.

September 1901 to July 1902 – Pelleas and Melisande

His only opera took him ten years of work, and finally scheduled for April at the Opéra Comique, he began rehearsals on January 13th 1902 and they continued until April 30th, date of the first performance of Pelleas and Melisande

 

His friend René Peter, who attended the rehearsals, later remarked:

"on the ladies’side: some pretty girls, among which Lilly Debussy stands out, bright blond haloed, in front of a stormy room. Lilly, very pale, attends all this from her seat trying to keep an even face."

At the end of the performance, a trip around Bois de Boulogne in a banger with Lilly and a friend shows a Debussy ...

"proud… above human poverty… not a word was said of Pelleas​ !"

 

In full conflict with Maeterlinck, author of the booklet of Pelleas and Melisande, who wanted to impose his companion Georgette Leblanc in the role of Melisande, against the will of the composer, the rehearsals would last for more than three months during which Debussy went every day at the Opéra Comique, as well as to the forty performances that followed the premiere on April 30.

 

He was exhausted but happy, thanks to the orchestral direction of André Messager and the interpretation of Mary Garden, Scottish singer of twenty-five years in the role of Melisande.

 

To Robert Godet on June 13 th, 1902:

"I feel so tired that it feels like neurasthenia, a luxury illness I didn’t believe in."

 

To the composer’s great regret, Messager left Pelleas after three performances to go to London where he had been hired by the Covent Garden Opera.

To Messager on May 9, 1902:

"You were able to awaken the sound life of Pelleas with a tender delicacy that we should no longer seek to find… Since you left, I am about as dreary as a path where no one passes anymore."

He accepted to join him in July at the Hotel Cecil, where he wrote to Lilly that he lived in “a delightful room on the Thames”

Then he briefly gave her his London impressions :

July 15:

"this afternoon, I went to see Hamlet played by a man who is simply a genius" 

July 16:

"Let me go back to the rue Cardinet and to my dear little woman who among other gifts has that of making tea… Ah, they don’t have women like that in England, they are women for horse-guards with the hues of raw ham and the graces of young animals. They perfume with ferocity and are as pretentious as can be.!"

The 18th:

"I went for a walk this morning in the City – it is the place where you do business… it’s lovely! It smells of pipe and tar and we see poor little beings sweating profusely, while big apoplectic gentlemen go slowly, afraid of shaking off their old fat”. Flower merchants have boater or feathered hats, which look like they come out of the garbage box rather than from Vinot! It’s dismal and pretentious."

Summer 1902, from July 24 to September 15

Claude and Lilly Debussy in 1902

National Library of France

"When I returned… It was to find Madame Debussy very ill… we are forced, on the doctor’s advice, to leave Paris as soon as possible! We will leave next Thursday"

The doctor had diagnosed kidney stones. Claude adopted the least expensive solution: to return to his parents-in-law in Bichain.

 

To Messager, end of July:

"I spent very bad days… my poor little Lilly never stopped suffering. And there we are, in the countryside. I dare not hope for much good, but at least some relief. Life is sad, my dear old Messager…"

 

End of July, another letter:

"Lilly is a little better. That is to say that she has increased her collection of small stones. It looks red and mean, that I don’t wish on anyone, instead of going to hell as you intend (be careful to find something from London there), you’d better come see your two friends. We would pamper you. If this is not the good life, it would at least be the calm and peaceful life of the fields… And that’s it… I go back, not to dig my garden but to watch my father-in-law dig his and that is enough for my agricultural desires"

 

On the 29th, to Jean Arnold, musical critic at the magazine Mercure de France

"I am writing to you among hens and roosters and other birds who care a lot more about a grain of wheat than about the author of Pelléas. They add to it the most peaceful disrespect and make me understand by natural cries that aesthetics are out of the question."

 

For the first time in his life, there was no current projects or work in progress, he practically did not work at all.

Still to Messenger in September:

"I did not write a note ... it is not to brag, but I was a long time like a squeezed lemon, and my poor grey cells did not want to know anything more ... To do what I want, it is necessary that I make a complete fresh start. Beginning a new composition seems to me a bit like a somersault where you risk breaking your back. ."

 

September 8:

"My wife is better, if she does not yet have the country complexion of a farmer, she at least has all the qualities, spending her life among the animals which, in this country as in many others, are very superior to people ... "

 

To his friend Paul-Jean Toulet, in September:

"I work hard at doing nothing and practice a sustained contemplation of something vague enough not to be able to otherwise describe it. Finally, I try to build up to perfect health with steel-like muscles - like a young locomotive.""

 

Composed fourteen years ago during his stay at the Villa Medici in Rome, he nevertheless revised the orchestral score of La Damoiselle élue, being edited by Jacques Durand, to whom he wrote from Bichain on August 10:

"I was far away in Burgundy and did not return until yesterday evening to Bichain. I almost finished reviewing the orchestral score of La Damoiselle. Little by little I forgot Pelléas, the audience of the Opéra Comique, and it's a charm for me. I send you the piano and voice score, along with my sincere friendship."

 

He cultivated laziness to a great extent claiming that all his projects had run aground on the edge of a charming little river and that he was again interested in the work of Edgar Poe, which he had read in Baudelaire’s translation from which he was considering an adaptation of one of his fantastic tales, Le Diable dans le Beffroi.

October 1902 to May 1903 - Celebrity

Returning to Paris on September 15, 1902, Debussy took charge of the new showing of Pelléas at the Opéra Comique.

To P.J. Toulet on October 21:

" ".... it takes up most of my time, and conscientiously dulls the rest."

 

Ten performances will take place from October 30, 1902 to January 6, 1903:

"A boisterous audience next to the enthusiasts."

 

In December, the Audition of La Damoiselle Elue with Mary Garden  took place at the Colonne Concerts.

 

Debussy had become famous, he was decorated with the Légion d'Honneur in January and his works were performed in the provinces. He wrote twenty-five articles in the magazine Gil Blas from January to June 1903 alongside the writer Colette.

Portrait of Claude Debussy by Nadar

in 1910

National Library of France

Then he made a second trip to London at the end of April 1903, on behalf of the journal Gil Blas, where he joined his dear friend Messager again. This time he had to attend the entire Wagner Ring cycle.

 

Of these "reunions" with Wagner's music, he expressed in his letters to Lilly all the ambiguity of his impressions:

April 28:

"I started my tetralogical cure ... with the Rhine Gold. It annoyed me a lot less than I would have thought; above all because Richter is the king of conductors."

May, the 1st

""... I heard Siegfried, it has, as you know, nothing to do with Pelléas; never have I been so bored."

While she was suffering a little in Paris, Claude wrote:

"The little mysterious being you are has the deplorable faculty of collecting the most diverse and the most unexpected illnesses ... I don’t have my room anymore on the Thames but a dirty little room that overlooks a dirty little courtyard. But at least it saves a bit of money! !"

 

He escaped to visit the Tate Gallery where he stayed for a long time in the Turner room, whose memory influenced him for  the composition of the Estampes the following summer at Bichain.

It was on his return to Paris  that he decided, in fact, to compose again for the piano. The Bergamasque Suite, written in 1891, was resumed, and there was the project of the Estampes and the large series of Images

June 1903, Lilly in Bichain

It was 30° in Paris, Lilly had left for a few days to rest in Bichain during the month of June where he wrote her letters every day as a caring and tender husband. He worked on a large series Images and Estampes for piano but only mentioned a saxophone rapsodie commissioned by an American, Elise Hall, of the Orchestral Club of Boston

Testimony of Mr. René Boutault, 18 route de Montereau, Bichain, in September 1999:

 

Claude Debussy went down every evening to Pélagie Champion to compose. She lived with her daughter Juliette in a large house located at the bottom of Bichain, at the end of the impasse, rue Saint Jean

 

They were "wealthy" people who enhanced their land, and Juliette was interested in music. Debussy had given her an invitation for the premiere of Pelléas et Mélisande.

Right, Lilly Debussy – Left, Juliette Champion

in front of n°29 rue Notre Dame – Bichain, 1903

Photo National Library of France

May 28:

"I sent you a 36-meter ball of china matting, a wonderful opportunity that should not be missed! It amounts only 50 cents per meter!!! It can be put along the walls or anywhere else. And a work basket for you. Two lovely sculpted bamboo bouquets - an admirable tray in green lacquer ... These purchases seem to me to be of indisputable use! I hope you will be of my opinion , do not fail to write to me that they suit you, otherwise I would be very sad

Thereupon I return to my article, which is less pleasant ... I humbly beg you not to tire yourself too much decorating our country house.

Your very loving, Claude,    

Give a kiss to my father in law Texier and do not forget Matessier and Romeo. Give my regards to the leading citizens of the country."

 

This was undoubtedly one of the articles written for Gil Blas, published in June 1903, which marked the end of his collaboration with this review.

 

He asked her to have a table made, gave her the dimensions, had a lobster sent from Laprince's house asking "that my father Texier should fetch it without fail."

 

May 31:

"So, I'm trying to finish this damned piece as quickly as possible. Of course, musical ideas take great care to flee from me, like ironic butterflies, and I spend hours of indescribable nervousness"

12°_lettre_1903.jpg

58, CARDINET STREET

Monday, June 1st /03

 

 

My darling wife                 

 

All this is very good and, of course, you have to "paint" especially if you enjoy it, but I humbly beg you to come back soon! ... If Bichain seems sad to you without me, Paris is unbearable without you. Moreover, be sure that only the obligation to finish the piece for the American woman keeps me here, otherwise I will surprise you in your pictorial occupations.

Letter of June 1, 1903 from Claude Debussy to Lilly Texier

Frederick R. Koch Foundation, Yale University, USA

June 2:

"By God, I'm a little jealous and would drop the lady with the saxophone for your thinnest smile ... Doing your duty, accomplishing your task, are obviously very beautiful maxims! But, my little Lilo, my white pussycat, you are all of my life! "

 

June 3:

"It is probably wiser not to fetch you at Bichain; yet, it is an acceptable madness that I would have liked to accomplish. I do not know why "the lady with the saxophone" appears to me as the statue of the commander appeared to poor Don Juan! She will never suspect how much she may have bothered me.

Doesn't it seem indecent to you, a woman in love with a saxophone, whose lips suck the wooden beak of this ridiculous instrument? Surely it must be an old mole who dresses like an umbrella."

 

Lilly liked Bichain a lot and they seemed to want to settle there.

 

In Bichain, Lilly devoted herself to housework, washing, cooking without complaining, without forgetting to sometimes become the beautiful girl who turned heads. Debussy had made her deliver by the “P.L.M. Messageries” a “transatlantic”, folding armchair with blue and white striped canvas, very fashionable on chic cruises. When the weather was good, she settled down in front of the house, in black silk pajamas, with a large ivory cigarette holder in her mouth. Polite head of the rural guard! Grimaces of all the peasant women, “a beautiful slut!” my grandmother said, yet we have never seen so many wagons on the road stop to let the horses breathe l”.

Testimony of Mr. Jean-Emile Masson, collected on May 12, 2000

Summer 1903, from July 10 to October 1

In early July, the couple moved into a house they rented at the top of Bichain. Claude had brought in a piano from Montereau and this time they would stay until October 1.

 

Louis Pasteur Vallery Radot, an academician passionate about Debussy, notes in his book “Such was Claude Debussy”

"He had rented a country house, between the national road and a small wood now disappeared, an old stagecoach relay, almost abandoned. Debussy rented it 200 francs a year. He had put furniture and a piano in it."

.

Bichain: national road, corner rue Notre Dame.

The house rented by the couple during the summer of 1903

is the first on the left.

Notre Dame Street

At the right corner, the house rented by

Claude and Lilly Debussy

Unlike the previous summer, Debussy will continue his intensive work started in Paris:

 

  • • the famous Fantasy for saxophone for the American Elise Hall

  • • final correction of the orchestral score of Pelléas et Mélisande

  • • musical writing of the Estampes

  • • libretto of Le Diable dans le beffroi based on the short story by Edgar Poe “the devil in the belfry”

  • • beginning  of La Mer

  • projects with Pierre Louÿs who was in Algeria and who had sent him a copy of Sanguines (collection of tales and short stories) so that he could write the musical part:
    "No, I haven’t forgotten Sanguines and I have already walked around, in countries  full of summer, mosquitoes and in a silence such that we could believe we are alone on earth... we do not get bored in the countryside. The main thing is not to believe that the sun that sets on the hillsides of Bichain is not the same as that which falls asleep on the whiteness of terraces in Biskra... I went to Sens  where there is a beautiful cathedral and some very cumbersome soldiers. You gain by eating there properly and drinking a Pommard which would make Kurnonsky panic. That's almost it for excursions ... So to occupy my time I have written a piano piece which bears the title of “Une soirée à Grenade”…And that's it!"

 

This last piece which evokes Spain is the second of the three Estampes...

Estampes

 

The first, Pagodes, all in oriental scales expresses as much a desire to escape..

 

To André Messager on September 7:

"I also wrote three piano pieces, the titles of which I particularly like: Pagodes, La Soirée dans Grenade, Jardins sous la pluie. When you cannot afford travel, you have to make up for it by imagination."

 

As for the third, Jardins sous la pluie, it is the only one directly linked to his stay in Bichain if we believe the testimony of a resident of Bichain questioned by Pasteur Vallery-Radot at the time when he knew Debussy:

"He said to me : Monsieur Debussy seemed odd to me. He was seen coming out of his house, walking on the road and then suddenly going back running to the piano ... One day, he told us, after playing I don't remember what: "It was the rain on the windows that inspired me! !"

 

The few letters written during this month of August to its editor Jacques Durand bear witness to the great care he took in presenting the Estampes:

"I know you have an infinite pleasure in flattering my mania for publishing; like all maniacs, I am easily picked up by that side… .you will have 'La Soirée dans Grenade' the day after tomorrow…. You will see on page 8 of 'Jardins sous la pluie' that a bar is missing ... I returned to the sad music paper, my outings now are limited to going round my table: not everyone can be a sportsman! ! "

 

His desire to settle in Bichain became clearer, he planned to acquire land there

To Durand, August 21:

"I could not answer you yesterday, having gone to Montereau for" my land "! ... I had to come across an old man with rickety but stubborn irony, who one day wants to sell, and the next day doesn’t want anymore ... He asks for three thousand francs, but there is a pond in this land that would be bought a thousand francs by the city, for reasons of alignment.

It’s quite a big fuss and I am afraid that my dreams of ownership are in this pond ... "

 

Claude and Lilly will never be owners at Bichain.

His publisher, Jacques Durand, owned the Bel-Ebat domain in Avon, in nearby Seine-et-Marne, frequented by Debussy and where he met musical figures of the time. He returned from these visits with a certain nostalgia:

"The Bel-Ebat domain is a beautiful place ... I consider with amazement how much copyright this would mean to get a similar one!"

Le diable dans le beffroi 

Still in August 1903, to Paul-Jean Toulet:

"I worked at Le Diable dans le Beffroi ... life in the country doesn’t let anything happen, and I’m without any news to tell you."

 

He had reread this Edgar Poe tale the previous summer and had written the libretto himself, hoping to do another opera after Pelléas...

 

To Messenger on September 7, 1903:

"… I worked on the libretto of Le Diable dans le beffroi. 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 ... "

 

September 12:

"We must not be too hasty to say: it's done about Le Diable ... the script is almost complete, the color of music I want to use pretty much fixed; there are still a lot of sleepless nights and great hope at the end of it. When people who make friends with me hope that I can never get out of Pelléas, they carefully cover their eyes. They therefore do not know that if this should happen, I would immediately start growing pineapples in the bedroom: considering that the most unfortunate thing is to "start over". Moreover,  it is likely that the same people will find it scandalous to have abandoned Mélisande's shadow for the ironic pirouette of Le Diable, and the pretext of accusing me once more of weirdness".

 

In fact, only a few notes remain concerning the screenplay and three pages of music, the plan to edit this tale as well as La chute dans la maison Usher (The fall of the house of Usher)­, by the same author, will never be really abandoned, but the favorable conditions never met for realize it.

La Mer

De l'aube à midi sur la mer -
00:00 / 00:00

It was then that he announced, in August to Durand, his new project:

"…"… I work at La Mer… if God is kind enough to be nice to me, it will be very advanced when I get back."

The form of a triptych was chosen for this new work:

 

To Messager on September 12:

"I work 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 of La Mer... You may not know that I was promised a great career as a sailor, and that only the hazards of existence made me branch off. However, I kept a sincere passion for her. You will tell me that the ocean does not bathe precisely the Burgundy hillsides ...! And that it could look like workshop landscapes! But I have countless memories; this is better, in my opinion, than a reality whose charm usually weighs much on your mind ."

 

The composition of La Mer will continue in Paris and during the summer of 1904, the summer of the break with Lilly, in Normandy, Jersey and Pourville. It will be completed in Paris in March 1905.

The people of Bichain remember

During his many walks in the countryside of Bichain, during which he elaborated his work, Debussy left some memories with the inhabitants, whose children still recall them.

 

Testimony of Mademoiselle Jeanne Blanc, collected on March 19, 2000

"my mother said that, when she was 10 or 12 years old,  Claude Debussy took her for a walk with his hand in her hand; they didn’t say much. Intelligent, she would only answer the questions he asked her. He showed her the wheat fields and told her it was like the sea."

 

Excerpt from the written testimony of Mr Jean-Emile Masson, May 12, 2000

"Debussy enjoyed long walks along the Yonne, still poorly tamed, towards the wash-house or the orchards. He liked to climb the Brisevent road (extension of Rue Notre-Dame after the N6), up to the Marnières. At the top there was a small wood with big rocks that dominated the ends of the Bernier, the Souchotte, the Latteux and the Cailloux: this formed a patchwork of cultures of great diversity which, in the summer, rippled in shimmering waves. He especially loved storms and at those times he borrowed from my grandfather a large shepherd’s limousine to go watch this spectacle. Returning to the farm in the evening, he said to Cecile, «I saw the swell», and my grandmother asked her husband, «Do you know this beast?»"

 

Testimony of Mrs. Yvonne Marcotte, 15 rue Verrine in Bichain, March 20, 2000

"My mother, Marthe Lhôtellier, said that her mother forbade children to go upstairs to play near the road (currently near the old garage Douche on the RN6) because there was a black plank cabin in which Mr. Debussy composed. On the day of the feast at La Brosse-Montceaux, Mr and Mrs Debussy took the children of Bichain, and all along the way they sang. She also remembered that Debussy had given Mademoiselle Juliette Champion, who lived in the house at the end of the impasse rue Saint Jean, and who had a piano on which he came to work, a painting in which there was a clock that worked. This painting was hung above the piano."

 

Testimony of André Blin, 2 rue Verrine, Bichain, December 26, 2000

"Jules Champion, Juliette’s father, had built this big house where Debussy went to compose. He was a big landowner and did a lot of farming. Madame Duman, a resident of Bichain who had known Debussy well, said in the 1940s, that during one of her stays in Bichain, she had seen the composer lying in the grass of the “Pré du Four”. It was a meadow behind the wash-house, south facing where it was very hot in the summer."

 

A film produced by François Lesure and directed by François Gir for FR3 was shot in Bichain and broadcast on June 6, 1982 during the program "Ouvert le Dimanche". It analyzes Debussy's relationships with other arts and evokes his love of nature through the landscapes of the Yonne that he was able to contemplate at Bichain. You can see Madame Champion showing her piano, as well as objects that belonged to the composer. Madame Cécile Creuzard, another resident of Bichain, presents him as a lonely being, in love with the countryside and who, during his walks seemed always absorbed by his thoughts (FR3, INA).

The house occupied by Claude Debussy is the subject of a museum project.

Author photo, January 2002

The plaque affixed to Debussy's house has the following inscription:

“In this house lived Claude Debussy during the summers from 1902 to 1904, he composed most of La Mer here”

 

The stay of 1901 is thus not mentioned and, in 1904, Debussy only made a return trip from Paris to Bichain on the day of July 28

Photo of the author, January 2002

Bichain's last letters

They speak of the happiness experienced near nature and its apprehension of the return to Paris

 

To Charles Levadé, a musician whom he had known at the Chat Noir cabaret and who asked him for advice on September 4:

"I would not write to you" the history of orchestrating through the centuries " because I did not bring to the countryside the documents necessary for this history; and I feel no taste for that. In short, the art of orchestrating is better learned by listening to the sound of the leaves moved by the breezes than by consulting the treatises where the instruments take on the air of anatomical pieces and which, moreover, provide poor information on the innumerable ways of mixing these instruments together."

 

To Octave Maus in September:

"I linger in the busy autumn countryside, forgetting all about the musical protocol, including the contests which are one of the main ornaments."

 

To Durand on September 12:

"… the annoying relaxation occured and I felt the need to leave any kind of paper for the exclusive contemplation of the various species of trees that adorn the surroundings of Bichain."

 

On September 30:

"I was a little late to respond to your last letter, wanting to enjoy my last beautiful days of tranquility. 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 hear again painted cardboard music."

 

To Raoul Bardac, (from Bichain, undated), he does not fail to mention his charming mother Emma Bardac, to whom he assures his deep devotion and to whom he transmits the faithful memory of Lilly.

October 1903, return to Paris

When he returns, Claude will be very busy with the rehearsals of Pelléas and Mélisande, of which a new cover is scheduled for the end of October at the Opéra Comique.

The couple will often be invited to stay to Emma Bardac’s private mansion, rue de Berri. In her forties, a beautiful, rich, culivated, society lady and musician, she sings the melodies of Debussy. Lilly felt uncomfortable there and, while encouraging Claude to go there for his career, stayed at home.

 

On December 19, Lilly’s father was seriously ill; in a letter from Claude that did not specify the place from where it was sent (perhaps Bichain where he seems to have given an appointment to Dr.Abel Desjardins at Germain Texier’s bedside) he again stated:

"It seems impossible to me not to share your pain, you who are my only goal and my only reason to believe in happiness."

Year 1904, the break

The success of Les Estampes, created on January 9, 1904, is the beginning of a notoriety that is manifested by numerous interpretations of his works and comments on his actions in the press.

On March 5, he completed the piano sheet music of La Mer.

 

Intimate bonds were forged between Claude Debussy and Emma Bardac without Lilly’s knowledge, who, on 10 July, will go alone to Bichain and a very stormy separation preceded the divorce pronounced in August 1905.

 

Claude Debussy married Emma Bardac on January 20, 1908, their daughter Claude-Emma called "Chouchou" was born on October 30, 1905, two weeks after the creation of La Mer..

Other works of universal dimension were composed, Le martyre de Saint-Sébastien, Jeux, twelve preludes, twelve studies, three sonatas, but the lifestyle imposed by Emma did not bring him the tranquility and serenity he had always sought..

 

Suffering from cancer for several years, he died in the middle of the war on March 25, 1918, in their mansion in the Bois de Boulogne square in Paris. His daughter "Chouchou", died of diphtheria a year later