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Paris, the City of Light, is one of the most romantic cities in the world. The millions of visitors which flock to the French capital every year follow in the footsteps of countless artists, writers and composers who for centuries have been drawn to this magnificent city. Some composers, Chopin and Rossini among them, found success and contentment, and remained in Paris for the rest of their lives. But for others, Paris brought nothing but disappointment and disillusionment.

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Dreaming of Debussy and Chouchou

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Emma Bardac, via Wikimedia Commons. During my childhood, Dad called me Pumpkin. French and American linguists alike puzzle over how the image of a fleshy, large gourd with bright orange skin is endearing. He quickly flipped off the motor, his hazel eyes lighting up as he bent down. Much later, given his reaction to the piano, the memory of his warmth would flummox me.

A university professor, he had an impossibly large vocabulary. He routinely used words such as gratuitous and perspicacious.

Debussy, flung out on the floor next to Chouchou, playing with one of her wooden dolls, speaking to his daughter in loving tones: already I find myself forgiving him for his terrible desertion of Lilly Texier. My own father, I found more difficult to forgive. At age 11, I started piano lessons and immediately became transfixed. I cruised through beginner books, then played a Bach Gigue for my first recital. The melody pealed with high notes, while accompanying arpeggios billowed in the bass.

In the early days of my lessons, sometimes when I practiced, Dad stood next to the piano, holding in one hand his fifth beer of the night, the other arm gesticulating, his body swaying in exaggerated motions. My sisters watched on the couch, giggling uncontrollably.

I felt bewildered that Dad was imitating my swaying in time to the music. My mother, who relaxed by playing Chopin preludes and waltzes on the piano, often praised me when I practiced. But her interference only sparked an argument between her and Dad, which escalated into one of their frequent screaming matches.

I could barely admit to myself that my practicing had caused my parents to hurl curses at each other. I did not have much time, I knew. This very moment, Dad might be crawling in his Volkswagen Beetle towards home. On the cresting road stood my father, 16, thin-limbed, his short haircut unable to tame the curls on top. His father, my Grandpa, in the heat of an argument with Grandma, had pushed her several times. Dad held his hands in a makeshift stance in front of his face.

Terror throbbed in his eyes. He and Grandpa danced, kicking up dust. Neighbors cowered behind curtained windows. Behind me, the door slammed. Startled, my arms convulsed. Dad charged through the hallway. Dad slammed the fallboard. I hung onto the piano for two more years, performing a thunderous and complex Rachmaninoff Prelude in recital during my sophomore year in high school.

In the ensuing 25 irretrievable, wasted years, I hardly touched the piano save a few tentative tries. To return to the keyboard was to confront my troubled relationship with my father. Despite his faults, I could not imagine Debussy screaming at Chouchou to get off the piano.

I combed through biographies of Debussy for some mention that Chouchou showed an early proclivity for music, that she sang beautifully like her mother, or that Claude and Emma started her early on the piano. A few years before, in my early 40s, I had miraculously reclaimed the piano after my husband enrolled our preschooler son in piano lessons.

Yet sometimes I imagined I saw shadows flickering in the empty hallway. I trembled at the unrealistic possibility that Dad, who lived across the country, would charge down the hallway at me in a rage. In a recurring dream, I sat down at a piano to play, my father looking on. I awoke with a choking feeling in my throat. I certainly am sorry for the grief I caused you and your sisters. Despite their dressy clothing, father and daughter sat on the bare ground, both extending one leg forward, pushing their heels into the soft dirt strewn with pine needles.

Chouchou was on the verge of adolescence, her thick hair still in large ringlets, yet her expression attentive and intelligent. I dug around in the biographies and calculated that at the time of the photograph, Chouchou was around 11, the age I started on the piano. Yet there in the park sat Chouchou and her father, still getting along on the eve of her adolescence, whereas at that age Dad had begun to ridicule me.

Why had Dad reacted with such furor to my playing? His drinking marring his judgment? The piano a symbol of my mother? His discomfort with my entering adolescence? The violence his own father heaped on him? These fragments of explanation merely circled what happened, but failed to provide a true explanation.

Chouchou never had a chance as an adult to evaluate her relationship with Debussy. At the time of the picnic with her father in the wooded park, Parisians already had suffered through two years of the Great War. In March of , a few days after Germans began to bombard Paris, Debussy died of colorectal cancer.

He left behind three unfinished sonatas. A year and some months later, Chouchou died of diphtheria, a painful coating of the throat that complicates breathing and swallowing. She was only three months shy of her 14th birthday. I speculated that Chouchou had succumbed not only to diphtheria, but also to grief. Small chords floated upwards, becoming higher in pitch, more crystalline in tone, while underneath, single notes strode slowly but decisively down the keyboard, traversing the distance of a sixth, from A to G, a quick stride from F to E, a pause, then from D to middle C.

Someone was leaving, at first with halting, then quickening steps. The notes struck and purified something inside my scarred soul. I required almost a decade of piano lessons to forgive my father. I have performed in AIDS hospices, medical centers, retirement homes, churches, and to gatherings of people with hearing loss. During this time, Dad and I have fallen back into a relationship, chatting on the phone with increasing frequency, in between family visits.

Yet Dad has not heard me play the piano, not since my teenaged recitals. Impulsively, I offer to play the Brahms for him. I gently place the phone, now on speaker, on the piano. I play through the entire first page, cries in minor keys with hopeful thirds falling delicately down the keyboard, a switch to a tender, reminiscing waltz in major keys, a quick explosion of anguished octaves marching downwards, all the while my hands trembling and my throat constricted as though I am struggling with nervousness on stage.

The final B-minor chord is rich, resigned, and lovely. When I pick up the phone, the tips of my knuckles gleam white from clenching the handset.

I am afraid that Dad will denigrate my music. I clear my throat. But it gives you an idea of the piece. Chouchou—a person of unmatched love. The pain he experienced from his colorectal cancer—which his doctors initially mistakenly ascribed to hemorrhoids—perhaps made Claude withdrawn or irascible at times. I am grateful that my father, who is now in his early 80s, and I have one luxury not available to Debussy and Chouchou: that of time.

And yet my father does love me, as best he can. Your email address will not be published. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Follow the ups and downs of her pursuits in her column.

Our series exploring, from multiple perspectives, pieces commonly studied by adult piano students. Founding Editor Nancy M.

Williams is a creative nonfiction writer and recipient of the Lamar York Nonfiction Prize. An ardent amateur pianist, she speaks about being a musician with hearing loss. In , she debuted in recital at Carnegie Hall. Born with a genetic loss, she serves on the Hearing Health Foundation's board. Nancy M. Williams, Founding Editor July 24, Claude Debussy at the piano in , via Wikimedia Commons. Click here to access the photo of Debussy and Chouchou. Get our free weekly newsletter.

Related Posts. How an Astrophysicist Got to Carnegie Hall. Classical Piano Music with Angela Hewitt. Classical Piano Music in a Brownstone. Deserting the Piano: A Personal Essay. Debussy First Arabesque Amplified.

Emma Bardac

Emma Bardac, via Wikimedia Commons. During my childhood, Dad called me Pumpkin. French and American linguists alike puzzle over how the image of a fleshy, large gourd with bright orange skin is endearing.

I got more than expected because didnt realize this cd came inside music book which I didnt need so will pass on to a friend but will keep cd. Debussy : an introduction to his piano music. Claude Debussy.

Emma was an accomplished singer and brilliant conversationalist. Distraught, Texier attempted suicide with a revolver in the Place de la Concorde. The ensuing scandal alienated Bardac and Debussy from friends and family, and in the spring of they fled to England, where they finalized their divorces, Emma from Sigismond on 4 May, Debussy from Rosalie on 2 August. They returned to Paris in time for the birth, on 30 October, of their daughter Claude-Emma, nicknamed 'Chouchou' , and dedicatee of his Children's Corner Suite composed in

The Classical Music Guide Forums

From a personally assembled database of 13, classical musicians, What Killed the Great and not so Great Composers delves into the medical histories of a wide variety of composers from both a musical and medical standpoint. Biographies of musicians from Johann Sebastian Bach of the Baroque period to Benjamin Britten of the Modern era explore in depth their illnesses and the impact their diseases had on musical productivity. Other chapters referenced to specific composers are devoted to such diverse ailments as deafness, mental disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, surgery and war injuries, to name a few. Although some individuals surrendered to their disabilities for a variety of reasons, others were able to rise above their infirmities and produce the wonderful music mankind has enjoyed through the centuries. Joseph W. Lewis, Jr. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Chapter 5. Ludwig van Beethoven Chapter 6. Gioachino Rossini Chapter 9.

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The ultimate guide to classical composers and their music-for both the novice and the experienced listener. Music, according to Aaron Copland, can thrive only if there are "gifted listeners. In The Essential Canon of Classical Music , David Dubal comes to the aid of the struggling listener and provides a cultural-literacy handbook for classical music. Dubal identifies the composers whose works are most important to an understanding of classical music and offers a comprehensive, chronological guide to their lives and works. He has searched beyond the traditional canon to introduce readers to little-known works by some of the most revered names in classical music-Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert-as well as to the major works of lesser-known composers.

Photo added by Bobb Edwards. Folk Figure.

Claude- Emma Chouchou Debussy, Her name combined those of her parent's , though she was fondly known as Chouchou. She was the inspiration for much of his work, though most obviously Children's Corner which he dedicated to her in

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Claude Debussy and Emma Bardac


He left Lily in to go live with Emma Bardac, a married woman with have a daughter with Emma in , an adored girl whom he called Dubal - - ‎Music.








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