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France and Ireland

Notes and Narratives

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Edited By Una Hunt and Mary Pierse

The rich association between Ireland and France is embodied in music, art and creative writing from both countries and this collection provides a tantalising selection of these interweaving influences. The book presents a vivid picture of interactions between composers, performers, poets and novelists on each side of the Celtic Sea. Surprises abound, with music unexpectedly linking Ireland and France through George Alexander Osborne and Frédéric Chopin, through Thomas Moore and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, through Irish-inspired French opera and a French-directed Irish orchestra. Words and music meet in a Kate O'Brien novel, a musical interpretation of Verlaine and a selection of Paula Meehan's poetry, while the encounter between wine and music creates new possibilities for artistic and cultural expression. Exploring the works and influence of a wide range of figures including James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Jacques Derrida, J.M. Synge, Hélène Cixous, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Hector Berlioz, Maurice Ravel, Neil Jordan and John Field, the essays collected here uncover a wealth of artistic interconnections between France and Ireland.
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‘Claude de France’: Debussy’s Great War of 1915

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In August 1915, exactly one year after the start of the conflict, Debussy signed his Sonata for Cello and Piano – the first of his intended six sonatas for various instruments – Claude Debussy, musicien français. In Bertrand Dermoncourt’s L’univers de l’opéra, the opening lines of the entry on Debussy read:

He who became, by some regrettable nationalistic twist, known as ‘Claude of France’—as if his music embodied the national cultural identity—was in many respects an atypical artist in the French musical landscape of his time.1

These two statements evoke an apparent contradiction in the last creative phase of this fascinating composer: how his yearning to contribute in a meaningful way to the war effort ended up with the composition of works whose features, both formal and stylistic, display the sort of modernism that was castigated in nationalist discourses. Concurrently and paradoxically, Debussy’s correspondence testifies to his leaning towards the more extreme form of nationalism, while the writings he collected early in 1914 (under the title Monsieur Croche antidilettante) underline his obsession with setting himself apart from his compatriots. Just as his very personal take on French musical tradition produced mixed reactions in 1915, posterity judged his anti-boches ramblings quite severely until a clearer understanding of his idiosyncrasies came to light in more recent years.2 Ironically, in a curious twist of fate, Maurice Ravel’s moral issues with post-1918 patriotism had been slated by none other than Erik Satie, ← 177 | 178 → who famously...

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