Painting with Music

On March 17 and 18 at 8 p.m. and 4 p.m. respectively, the Greenwich Symphony will hold their fourth concert of the season. Featured on the program will be works by composers Rimsky-Korsakov, Alban Berg and Debussy. The highlight will be the Berg violin concerto with soloist and Iceland native Judith Ingolfsson. Ms. Ingolfsson has performed with orchestras across the United States and Europe. For more information on the upcoming Greenwich concert and to purchase tickets log onto

Claude Debussy is one of the most important French composers. An impressionist musician he is said to have painted with music… This infamous composer was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, about 20 miles outside of Paris, the son of shopkeepers. The family soon moved to Clichy, closer to Paris. As a young man, Claude thought of being a painter but his father initially hoped his son would enter the navy. It was the pianist Antoinette Maute, a student of the infamous Chopin, who discovered his musical talent and prepared him for entrance to the Paris Conservatory at age eleven. The boy began as a pianist, but switched to composition. His abilities were obvious, as were yearnings to break free from the composition restraints taught at the Conservatory. Traveling intensified those yearnings. A trip to Russia exposed him to the exotic harmony of composers like Rimsky-Korsakov, also on the upcoming Greenwich Symphony program.

He adopted the Impressionist technique of using color and light to suggest rather than define scenes and objects, but he was too concerned with form to be definitively classified as an “Impressionist.” He was often more interested in instrument timbres than the melody they produced, and his orchestration was precisely and subtly drawn. He also understood the dramatic value of silence.

Debussy was often described as catlike in his physical manner. He was in fact a lover of cats, a hedonist who was quite the Bohemian and café-goer. He was not terribly active except when composing. His means were limited, and he was often in debt. He had a few scandalous affairs (his first wife and one mistress attempted suicide), two wives and one daughter.

Emma Bardac was introduced to the great Debussy by her son Raoul who was a music student of his. The first sign of romance between them took the form of a dedicated copy of piano music, a gift from Debussy. Following a scandalous divorce from her then Parisian banker husband Emma went to live with Debussy. Together they had a daughter named Claude-Emma before marrying three years later. They lived in the chic Bois de Boulogne area, flaunting their upscale Bohemian way of life… scandalously.

The upcoming Greenwich Symphony concert will give you a chance to travel on the atmospheric strains of Debussy’s music. In his music and in life, he was a unique individual who never sought approval from society and that blasé indifference seeps through his compositions…for all the regular Greenwich Symphony attendees out there I wish you a beautiful evening with Debussy this March…

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