Monday, April 2, 2012

An overlooked birthday boy

“What happened to Debussy?” wonders The Guardian’s Tom Service, who observes that the institutions of classical music, which ordinarily make big deals of round-numbered anniversaries of well-known composers (Mozart in 1991 and 2006, Chopin and Schumann in 2010, Mahler in 2010-11, Liszt in 2011, etc.), seem not to have noticed that 2012 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy, one of the most distinctive and widely influential voices in modern music:

The omission is especially hard to fathom in today’s compositional climate, as so many composers focus so much creative energy on explorations of tone color.

There’s time to make amends. The year is still young, and Debussy’s 150th birthday is Aug. 22.

* * *

While we’re on the subject of anniversaries, this year marks the 100th birthday of John Cage (Sept. 5) and the 150th of Frederick Delius (Jan. 29). It’s also the 300th anniversary of the death of Giovanni Gabrieli, the 100th of the deaths of Jules Massenet and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and the 50th of the death of Jacques Ibert.

This year is the centenary of Debussy’s “Jeux” and “Syrinx,” Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos,” Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé” and Delius’ “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring.” (Music was headed in all sorts of directions in 1912, wasn’t it?)

It’s also the 150th anniversary of Verdi’s “La forza de destino” and Berlioz’s “Beatrice at Bénédict,” the 200th of Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth symphonies, the 250th of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Eurydice,” and the (approximate) 300th of Vivaldi’s concerto collections “L’Estro harmonico” and “La stravaganza.”

My source for all these data is “The Dictionary of Composers and Their Music,” compiled by Eric Gilder and June G. Port (Paddington Press, 1978).