Claude Debussy: Refracting His Music through Art

Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926)
The Artist's Garden at Vétheuil, 1881
Oil on canvas
The Norton Simon Foundation, F.1975.09.P

Claude Monet is well-known for his lushly rendered landscapes, and he and Debussy shared a similarly iconoclastic philosophy to pre-existing artistic rules. Monet once wrote to a critic: “I only know that I do what I can to convey what I experience before nature and that most often, in order to succeed in conveying what I feel, I totally forget the most elementary rules of painting, if they exist that is.” Debussy also turned to nature for inspiration in his work with a similar reverence for its effect. In a 1911 interview with French writer Henry Malherbe, Debussy commented: “I have made mysterious Nature my religion... When I gaze at a sunset sky and spend hours contemplating its marvelous ever-changing beauty, an extraordinary emotion overwhelms me. Nature in all its vastness is truthfully reflected in my sincere though feeble soul. Around me are the trees stretching up their branches to the skies, the perfumed flowers gladdening the meadow, the gentle grass-carpeted earth... and my hands unconsciously assume an attitude of adoration.”

This movement is from Images pour orchestra (Images for Orchestra), “Rondes du printemps” (“Round Dances of Spring"). Debussy turns to folk songs and rich orchestral palette, to evoke our human experience, living amid the changeable conditions of nature.