Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Paul Dukas Sonata

By Claude Debussy, Posted by olvlzl.

Music, nowadays, tends to become more and more an accompaniment for sentimental or tragic incidents, and plays the ambiguous part of the showman at the door of a booth behind which is displayed the sinister form of “Mr. Nobody.”

True lovers of music seldom frequent fairs; though they merely have a piano and feverishly play a few pages over and over again; as sure a means of intoxication as “just, subtle and mighty opium,” and the least enervating way of spending happy hours. Paul Dukas seems to have such people in mind when writing his sonata. It breathes a kind of mystic emotion and presents a rigidly connected sequence of ideas which seem to compel a close and careful study. This compelling quality gives a peculiar stamp to nearly all the work of Paul Dukas, even when it is merely episodic. It is the result of the patient intensity with which he adjusts the several parts of his harmonic scheme. It is to be feared that such a work may prove difficult to follow on a concert platform. No reflection is thereby cast on either the beauty or the vision of the sonata. Although the mind conceiving this work unites a constructive purpose with an imaginative idea, there is no need to assume a desire for complexity; nothing could be more deliberately absurd.

Paul Dukas knows the potentialities of music; it is not merely a matter of brilliant tone playing upon the listener to the point of enervation, an easy thing to understand where several kinds of music which seem to be antagonistic are united without difficulty. For him music is an inexhaustible store of forms, of pregnant memories which allow him to mold his ideas to the limits of his imaginative world. He is the master of his emotion and knows how to keep it from noisy futility. That is why he never indulges in those parasitic developments which so often disfigure the most beautiful effects. When we consider the third movement of his sonata, we discover under the picturesque surface an energy that guides the rhythmic fantasy with the silent precision of steel mechanism. The same energy prevails in the last part, where the art of distributing emotion appears in its highest form; one might even call this emotion constructive, since it displays a beauty akin to perfect lines in architecture, lines that dissolve into and are keyed to the spatial color of air and sky, the whole being wedded in a complete and final harmony.

Claude Debussy, trans. B. N. Laughton Davies, 1928