“No one will ever know how different my music really is from what people think.  Do they realize that I've never heard what I hear in my head, and so often not even what's on the page?"

Claude Debussy, 1911



You know that hashish always invokes the magnificence of light, glorious splendors, cascades of liquid gold; all light favors it: that which flows in sheets, that which hangs like straw on points and asperities, the candelabra of salons, the candles of Mary’s month, the rosy avalanches of sunset.”

Charles Baudelaire, 1860



“Debussy spoke enthusiastically of a rather vague project for which he even asked me to provide an outline. His idea was for a cosmogonic drama, without words or plot, in which invisible singers, soloists and chorus would deliver onomonopoetic syllables, to the accompaniment of lighting effects onstage. The orchestra, which would be hidden beneath the scenery, would symbolically represent clouds, the wind, and the sea.”

Jaques Emile Blanche, 1932


A voice from outside: "Ap-raman!"

At these words, a funereal silence fell upon the room, and the door opened by itself.

A specter entered, and what a specter! A gloomy bronze face, a somber, sinister, colossal figure that struck the resonant slabs with its bronze heels. Unlike the other ghosts, it had the advantage of being neither a chimera nor an apparition but a real, solid, and tangible horror that seized you harshly at the core. Its shadow passed slowly and coldly over the foreheads of the guests. It stopped in the middle of the table, cast livid looks over the guests, poured itself a drink into a leaden goblet, which it emptied in one gulp, and blew on the entire banquet as if to extinguish its joy. At this breath, the lights dimmed, the roses wilted in the women's hair, the masks fell, and the faces turned mournful. Indeed, it was the magician's artificial man.

Alphonse Esquiros, 1836



“I receive endless requests to write out lines of music along with my autograph. I don't often give them out. I rather fancy writing out false ones and distributing them. The other day I received a letter from Buenos Aires, in which an American lady made such a request and put 500 francs in the envelope for my reply. I kept the 500 francs and the reply.”

Claude Debussy, 1907



“I could dispense with explaining myself on the actual musicality of my reconstruction, my title of composer covering, at my risk and peril, the result obtained. If I don't stick to this easy attitude, it's because my ideas on the very nature of inspiration are quite different from those generally held. That the artist is, in the proper sense of the word, a creator, I do not believe. It is easier for me to admit the existence of some immense reservoir where, always and forever, by a volitional phenomenon which exceptionally puts in power certain mysterious springs of consciousness, it is given to draw sometimes unto the perfection, in proportion to the quality of the aesthetic sense of the perceiver.

Edmond Bailly, The Song of the Vowels in Invocation to the Planetary Gods, 1912

My thanks to Phil Legard/Larkfall for the MIDI creation


From the celestial vault hangs a gigantic spindle, which carries in its eternal course eight orbs of varied colors. On each of these circles sits a Siren 'uttering a single note of her voice, always in the same tone.' It is through the movement of this voice that the movement of the various celestial spheres is accomplished. The sound made by the golden axle of the world, turning on itself, accompanies their hymns. 

“This concert forms the triple voice of time, which tells of the past, the present and the future, and which wise men have sometimes heard on earth by approaching a tomb during the silence of the night.

“From the side of the moon rises a sweet concert; the sounds of the sun are admirable; a voice of thunder comes from Mars, a sweet nightingale song from Jupiter.

“The song of the Siren-birds, souls of the stars, stars themselves, belongs to this class of cosmic harmonies. We can define it even less easily than we can define the voice of the speaking statue, that is to say the sound of the rising sun and the setting sun, the sound of the moon whistling its light through space, the moan of nature shivering in contact with the morning breeze, and the music of the rain falling rhythmically on the ground.

Jean-Georges Kastner, 1858


“Edmond Bailly is an improbable publisher who only puts out things that are of high quality, things that please him, and therefore it is not surprising his business is not going well.”

Ernest Chausson, 1897


“In Wagner's operas, the singers never appear without being accompanied by their damned leitmotif; sometimes they even sing it! This is about as crazy as if someone, in handing you his visiting card, were at the same time to sing what was written on it.

“Can you imagine that in a composition the same emotion can be expressed twice? Either one has never thought about it, or else it is just laziness.

“And four evenings for a play! Does that even seem to you admissible? Don't forget that during those four evenings you will be hearing always the same things. The characters on stage and the orchestra go on exchanging the same themes, and then you arrive at the Twilight of the Gods, which is once again a résumé of everything you have been hearing.

“This is inadmissible for those who like clarity and concision.

“I would like to see, and I will succeed myself in producing, music which is entirely free from 'motifs', or rather consisting of one continuous 'motif' which nothing interrupts and which never turns back on itself. Then we shall have a logical development, concise and deductive; there will be no hasty and superfluous padding in between two repetitions of the same 'motif ' which will be a characteristic and essential part of the work. The development will no longer be a purely material amplification, a rhetorical exercise performed by a well-taught professional, but will have a wider and indeed psychic significance.

Claude Debussy, 1903



“Achille de Bussy does not lapse into banality nor is he platitudinous. On the contrary, he has a pronounced tendency—too pronounced—toward an exploration of the strange.”

Académie Report on Achille de Bussy, 1887



“I was still on stage when the final curtain had come down, and I saw Diaghilev coming toward me, accompanied by a dark man with a sort of double forehead: it was Claude Debussy.

Igor Stravinsky, 1910



“What he saw happening as he stood back in a detached way was every individual disappearing, dissolving into the mass, melting together with millions of others. Suddenly overnight a young, mighty, titanic being grew into existence, das Volk.

Hanns Heinz Ewers, 1921



“In former times, the bells had their role to play in the forbidden sciences. The art of predicting the future from their sounds is one of the least known and most neglected branches of the occult.

J.-k. Huysmans, 1891



I recommend the bookseller Edmond Bailly to you, that fellow! If you only knew what that little man harbors within himself— eminent knowledge and really very artistic ideas; and he has a tenacity that at times makes mine pale in comparison.”

Claude Debussy, 1893



“For years and years, amidst all the problems I have been concerned with, this one has kept me brooding over its mystery. Today a radiant intelligence, Pythagoras, has held out his hand to me across the twenty-five centuries that separate us...”

Edmond Bailly, The Song of the Vowels as Invocation to the Planetary Gods, 1912


“The possibility of a war preoccupies everyone. All of Europe is moving toward solutions of violence. We are breathing the oppressive air of l’avant-guerre.”

L'Anarchie, 1912



“In the music of Claude Debussy, these chords do not represent a continuity of musical thought; they merely exist in space, or more precisely, in musical time, as if drawn to each other by some astrological influence.”

Edward Lockspieser, 1962



“I don't see a circle: I only see circles described in one direction or another, what are called cycles. The problem is therefore reduced to this new statement: What are the pleasant directions? What are the unpleasant directions?  In other words: What directions do we associate with pleasure and pain?”

Charles Henry, 1885


[Victor-ÉmileMichelet says Paul Adam was one of the three or four minds of the Symbolist generation who really grasped what a symbol was and could thereby vivify his work with that perception; the others apparently only acceded to the 'threshold of allegory.' Adam swam deep into 'the oceans of gnostic intellectuality' and knew how to penetrate beyond appearances. 

“'Possessed of prophetic powers, Adam could read into the subterranean wefts beyond nature on 'which were embroidered the events of 1914 and the following years.' That is to say, he predicted World War I and subsequent events. 

“Paul Adam constructed his stories, the lives of his characters, the twists and turns of his dramas that link them into logical sequence, on the tarot. His dramas are the eruptions of invisible reality, symbolized by any manner of combination of the tarot’s seventy-eight cards. And if this all sounds implausible, Michelet reproduced a letter in his Companions of the Hierophany in which, in the most charming French prose, Adam congratulated Michelet on having penetrated his secret: that yes, the tarot had been for him a constructive key, indispensable to a 'thousand intutitions': 'I remain a docile disciple having received the highest recompense of his zeal, that of your approbation. Paul Adam. June 1919.'

Tobias Churton, 2016




French novelist (1862-1920), important for his LETTERS FROM MALAYSIA (1898) and for having sprinkled his work with small utopian and anticipatory sketches. A dozen of his stories interest us in whole or in part.

In chapter XVI of CLARISSE (1907), a floating factory off the coast of Brest uses the perpetual movement of the sea to produce electricity, which is then stored in “liquid accumulators, jugs of energy which are conveyed worldwide for all purposes.

In USEFUL HEART (1892), we find a communist utopia with phalanstery. Locomotives pull harrows, plows, etc. The workshops are decorated and “functional” music lightens the work.

THE FUTURE TALE (1893) presents in 55 pages a coming war in which, very soon after the start, the combatants fraternize and establish an era of perpetual peace.

Under the title “Future Grandeur de l'Avare (in the collection CRITIQUE DES MOEURS (1893)), we read this: [..] machines which will feed, clothe, heat, refresh and gladden the world by means of the tappings of index fingers on the ivory of motor buttons, and this again, which surpasses everything, in terms of energy: The muscular contractions aroused by the yawns of strolling pedestrians will suffice to produce the initial force immediately stored, condensed, multiplied in receivers established everywhere.


“There are moments when human genius slumbers. There are others when it is exalted by the fever of creation. Chemistry, physics and biology evolve with a miraculous rapidity, translated before our eyes into such miracles as the ancient poets revered. Without harness, chariots run with a magical speed. Tritons plunge into the bosom of the sea with the submarines. Icariuses fly. Jupiters by the millions manipulate the lightning. Phaetons pass in a day through the spaces of the European sky. Swifter than Iris, the message-bearing thought, entrusted to the waves of an aerial vibration, spreads from Europe to Africa, Asia, America in a fraction of time. 

Did the nymphs of the waterfalls know that they would one day deliver up the force of their waves to the power of a dynamo, that would change them into electric lightning glowing over whole regions?

Paul Adam, 1894



“I suppose that a moon-man or an alien from some distant planet, upon arriving at our world, and wearied by his long travels, might seek to refresh his palate and warm his belly.” 

Claude Debussy, 1912



“Debussy was such an unusual personality. With most geniuses their work, their dreams, color the rest of their lives. It was not so with him. It was as if someone had taken a bit of genius, put it in a box and thrown it violently at his head. It stuck, yes, but it was not a part of him, of his everyday life, his modes of thought.”

Maggie Tetye, 1958

“In the films I made with Liška there wasn’t much action as such. It was he who put all the main action into music. Rhythm was always very important for me, and he found rhythms in them I had no idea were there. It was fascinating. He’d pick out a whole lot of subtler rhythms I was quite unaware of. ‘Unconscious rhythms’ he called them.

Jan Švankmajer, 2000

Link: The Fantastic Mr. Fox: a biographical essay by David Herter



“Debussy was a very, very strange man.”

Mary Garden, 1951



It is the spirit of anarchism that reigns in France in the artistic moment, a need for destruction, a sort of delirium that wants to abolish everything that exists.”

Gabriel Mourey, 1899


“'Even with all of this, professor,' he said, 'I still don’t understand, how so suddenly your horrible myth of the stars can somehow become living.'”

Hanns Heinz Ewers, 1921


“Imagination is decidedly a very good thing: it allows you to credit people with ideas even more stupid than those they undoubtedly already have.”

Joris-karl Huysmans, 1879



“Debussy uses chords like Mallarmé uses words, as mirrors which concentrate the light from one hundred different angles upon the exact meaning, while remaining symbols of that meaning and not the meaning itself. These strange harmonies are not the end, but the point of departure of the composer's intentions. They are the loom upon which the imagination must weave its own fantasies.”

T.E. Clark,  1921



“The Epoch to come will be mystical. Mystic and theistic. It will inaugurate the miracle of man disdaining pain, abstracted in imaginative dreams, in the habitual hallucination, returned to the primitive and divine essence, become also creator, creator of his ecstasies and his Heavens.”

Paul Adam, 1893



It had come to this: no one was safe from inventions that leapt out from ambush onto humankind. The sporadic arrival of new inventions was like the epidemics of earlier centuries that had ravaged humanity, emptied cities...The tamed masses conducted themselves peaceably in the zones; were allowed to shout: 'Down with new inventions!' Their hostility made it easier for the new rulers to reintroduce quotas for incoming technologists and scientists, and to secure their own position. A circle of cities and regional zones emerged. London, ever watchful, kept a close eye on them. But the rulers of the cities, handed great power by popular support, sat there scornful and arrogant, men and women both, and laughed. Laughed at the trust the people placed in them; of course they’d help to ensure that the ground the cities stood on would not be undermined by new inventions. Laughed: 'We won’t let them undermine you. If only you knew what ground it is you stand on.'

Alfred Doblin 1924

Please remember, monsieur, that the triangle is not a sentimental instrument.” 

Claude Debussy, 1909


“Where am I?”  

“Very far from your tottering globe, which you will never see again, very far from your sad sun, which is dying slowly in the bosom of its cold planets. Your worlds have fallen into the gaping depths of the immensity, and you would search in vain for Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. All those children of darkness have returned to eternal oblivion.”

Jane de La Vaudère, 1893


“She seemed to be undulating in the caresses of the nocturnal star, a jealous watcher.”

Édouard Schuré, 1897


“Verlaine, Mallarmé, Laforgue brought us new tones, new sounds. They cast glimmers on the words that had not yet been seen; they used methods unknown to the poets their predecessors; they conceived the verses or the prose like musicians and, like musicians again, combined the images and their sound correspondence.”

 Paul Dukas, 1921


“O solemn procession of magnificent suns

Knot and unknot your great, golden masses,

Gently, sadly, to somber music

Conduct your sleeping sister's slow cortege.

Jules Laforgue, 1890


“It’s devoutly to be wished that this ardor for finding ways of bringing art before the public should be cooled, otherwise there will soon be more fake artists than real art—and I’m not even certain this moment hasn’t already arrived.”

Claude Debussy, 1891


“Perfect and unpredictable beings will offer themselves for your experiments.”

Arthur Rimbaud, 1875


“For this science, said the masses, nothing is impossible: she commands the elements, knows the language of the celestial bodies, and directs the progress of the stars; the dead rise in their tombs and articulate with fatal words the wind of the night that whistles in their skulls.”

Éliphas Lévi, 1856

“The poet will be a poet only if he is by nature initiated into the analogies which make up the universe: Symbolism is a mystical doctrine.”

Louis Laloy, 1905



“Every work of art should come to a point or summit, like a pyramid, or else the light should strike one spot on a sphere.” 

Gustav Flaubert, 1857

“Debussy once asked me rather naively if I consorted with the composers of my own country; and without waiting for an answer told me that he did not consort with the composers of France.”

Cyril Scott, 1933


“Never shall I forget the impression made upon me by Debussy's thick-set figure, the huge greenish, almost Moorish face beneath the dense thicket of black hair, and the obscure dreaming eyes that seemed to be peering through me at some object behind my back. As he lumbered vaguely forward, extending a cushioned hand, he looked like some Triton arisen from ‘the glaucous caverns of Old Ocean. ‘A mythological survival!’ I said to myself.”  

Arnold Bax, 1921



“We live in a very strange era, in which we want to say everything, know everything, publish everything. When will there be respect for us and for our mystery?

Claude Debussy, 1912



“What artist could not be tempted by the piquant enigma of a human being who became a flower?”

Jean Lorrain, 1909


“Would not one suppose that the curved line and the spiral pay their court to the straight line, and twine about it in a mute adoration? Would not one say that all these delicate corollæ, all these calices, explosions of odours and colours, execute a mystical dance around the hieratic staff?

Charles Baudelaire, 1869


“So, Monsieur, it’s toward the zone of the sirens that we’re steering?”

Maurice Renard, 1933


Look at that flower. It hides a marvelous secret in its calyx. The perfume that evaporates from it does not diminish by its intensity the mystery enclosed in its heart. Here, it is the symbol of joy.”

Victor-Émile Michelet, 1900



“The Germans! Ouf! Everything with them is en gros. A theme must be long, regardless of its contents or value; the longer the better. Then another interminable episode and then another endless theme. Then, after sixteen quarts of beer, they begin a development so long, so long, that there is scarcely room in this house to hold it. Take, for instance, the symphonies of Mahler with its thousand voices and whips, submarines and whatnot. Or Monsieur Strauss, who is clever in that he knows how to write nothingness itself.” 

Claude Debussy, 1913



“The dark stranger now began to speak of the true craft of song in very extraordinary language, which itself almost sounded like strange songs hitherto unheard.” 

E.T.A. Hoffmann, 1819



“Any sounds in any combination and in any succession are henceforth free to be used in a musical continuity."

Claude Debussy, 1893