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That same year of 1880 Mme von Meck introduced Debussy to Wagner in Venice.
It took a decade for Debussy to work through his Wagner enthusiasm, and realise
he must escape the influence that was making Paris, that 'kept woman of a city',
a prime centre of Wagnerism, literary, philosophical and musical. Mazurka
is as unWagnerian as much of Wagner's own piano music. Germans have always been
uncomprehending on the subject of Slavs, and a safe way to elude Wagner was to
attempt a Polish dance. Harmonically this still inhabits the world presided over
by Mme von Meck
[listen -- track 4, 0:00-1:05].
The Ballade is already in idiom more Debussy's own. Still he was in revolt
against Germany, as he made clear in its original title, 'Ballade slave'.
Even in 1880 he had expressed his distaste for German music. He told Mme
von Meck it was alien to the French temperament, heavy and lacking in clarity.
In return she thought him 'a typical Parisian boulevard product'. Chopin was as
much a Slav as Meck, but he had migrated with total success to the centre of
French culture. In his Ballade, Debussy shows clearly enough for the first time
on this CD that he is indeed the Frenchman
[listen -- track 6, 0:24-1:28].
Copyright © 27 October 2004
Robert Anderson, London UK