On this day in 1894 Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune was first performed in Paris. Based on French poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s beautiful poem, Debussy’s work was well received.
He was a child prodigy and a brilliant pianist as well as a composer. His work at the time was considered very modern and impressionistic. It was a different story, though, in 1912 when the Ballets Russes of Diaghilev gave their first performance of the work in dance form. The brilliant but erotic dancing of the star male dancer, Nijinsky, was too much for the audience – on the second night the police were called.
Debussy’s private life was chaotic and, though twice married, he had numerous affairs. He stayed briefly at Eastbourne when things got too difficult at home and during his stay wrote his famous piece La mer.
Here is the beginning of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem that had inspired him, The Afternoon of a Faun:
These nymphs, I would perpetuate them.
Their crimson flesh that hovers there, light
In the air drowsy with dense slumbers.
Did I love a dream?
My doubt, mass of ancient night, ends extreme
In many a subtle branch, that remaining the true
Woods themselves, proves, alas, that I too
Offered myself, alone, as triumph, the false ideal of roses.
Let’s see . . .
or if those women you note
Reflect your fabulous senses’ desire!
Faun, illusion escapes from the blue eye,
Cold, like a fount of tears, of the most chaste:
But the other, she, all sighs, and contrasts you say
Like a breeze of day warm on your fleece?
Today I ask for the ability to see new meanings in life and to pass on to others the chance to re-evaluate their own visions.