DEBUSSY, CLAUDE. (1862-1918). French composer; creator of La Mer, Pelléas et Mélisande, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and other masterpieces. AMusMs. (Unsigned). 1p. Oblong 4to. (Approximately 7 x 11 inches). N.p., N.d. A rare autograph fragment from Debussy’s unfinished opera The Fall of the House of Usher, comprised of 16 measures for voice with accompaniment noted on two or three staves. Debussy has written “B” in blue pencil in the upper right-hand corner. This fragment from the opera’s second scene corresponds to bars 318 to 333 of the edition of the Complete Works (Series VI, volume 3, pp. 64-66). With the title, inscription and a signature in the hand of his second wife EMMA BARDAC DEBUSSY (1862-1934). (“emClaude Debussy”). Inscribed to violist ALICE MERCKEL (1899-1973) who, with her brother Henri, founded the Merckel Quartet in 1918. In French.

By the spring of 1895, Debussy had completed the first version of his opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s play of the same name. Reworked several years later, it premiered at Paris’s Opéra Comique on April 30, 1902, but was heavily criticized for Debussy’s use of non-traditional elements. Simultaneously, Debussy was working on two pieces inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, which expanded on these new, unconventional techniques. Of all his unfinished works, Debussy probably spent the most time on these two Poe pieces, one inspired by Poe’s The Devil in the Belfry and the other by The Fall of the House of Usher, stories that haunted him and Maeterlinck, his librettist. In 1909, Debussy wrote, “I confess I’ve rather put work [on Images] on one side lately in favor of Edgar Allan Poe. It’s an absorbing task, so I hope you’ll forgive me,” (Debussy Letters, Lesure & Nichols). Still tormented by Poe’s tales, Debussy wrote in 1911 “I haven’t managed so far to find out what I want for my two Poe stories... They smell of the lamp and you can see the ‘seams’! The longer I go on, the more I detest the sort of intentional disorder whose aim is merely to deceive the ear,” (ibid.). By the time of his death in 1918, both works remained unfinished and, therefore, exist only in fragments.

In 1904, though married, Debussy became infatuated with Emma Bardac, a singer, the mother of one of Debussy’s pupils, and the former mistress of composer Gabriel Fauré. After informing his wife, Rosalie “Lilly” Texier, that he wanted a divorce, she publicly attempted suicide by shooting herself in the chest in the middle of Paris’s Place de la Concorde. The attempt failed and the bullet remained lodged in her vertebrae until her death in 1932. The scandal led to the estrangement of Bardac and Debussy from their family and friends, including Fauré, Paul Dukas and André Messager. Debussy and Bardac obtained divorces in 1905 and married in 1908, forming a union that lasted until his death ten years later. Their only daughter, Claude-Emma “Chouchou” Debussy, was the dedicatee of Debussy’s 1909 Children’s Corner suite.

Our measures correspond to the end of Roderick Usher’s monologue in scene two, before the doctor’s reply. Debussy has noted only part of the words below the vocal line (omissions noted in brackets): “They are coming. They are coming over me [Black wings!...] I can’t see... [I’m afraid] I’m afraid” (bars 318 to 328). This is followed by the sketch, without the words of the doctor’s reply (bars 329 to 333). At the beginning of bar 329, Debussy has written “Harp” in the accompaniment.

The manuscript’s visibility is less than satisfactory due to the small size of Debussy’s handwriting and the ink’s fading. There are three additional measures in Debussy’s hand in pencil, along with some minor mounting traces on the verso, otherwise fine. Rare. [indexMusic]

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