Bilingual Music: The Evenings Illuminated by the Burning Coal 雙語音樂: 煤爐紅焰照亮的夜晚

Sat, Dec 22, 2018 - Page 14

We are approaching the end of the year 2018, a year that not only marked the centenary of the end of World War I, but which also marks the 100th anniversary of the death of French composer Claude Debussy. The war had ravaged Europe, bringing the continent to its knees, and had dealt a savage blow to the cancer-wracked composer. Both the war and Debussy’s disease had, for a time, drained him of creativity. Then, toward the end, the composer once again picked up his pen and threw himself into composing a set of six sonatas for various instruments. For these works, Debussy derived inspiration from the court music of his French Baroque predecessors, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Francois Couperin, and revisited works from over the course of his own career, transforming the desolation of war into creative impetus to produce late works of penetrating, crystalized perspicacity.

Debussy’s works for solo piano remain popular even today, with two books of preludes particularly admired by music lovers. His short composition The Evenings Illuminated by the Burning Coal (Les Soirs Illumines par l’Ardeur du Charbon), written in 1917 but rediscovered only in 2001 in private hands, was not only the last piece for solo piano Debussy ever wrote, it can also be regarded as the envoi to his two books of preludes.

Throughout his life, Debussy had been an ardent admirer of the work of his compatriot Charles Baudelaire, and had composed a song cycle as the musical setting of Baudelaire’s poems. In a similar vein, at the end of the fourth prelude in Book 1, published in 1910, Debussy wrote “Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir” (the sounds and fragrances swirl through the evening air), a line from the poem Harmonie du Soir from Baudelaire’s famous collection Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du Mal).

The title The Evenings Illuminated by the Burning Coal came from another poem — The Balcony (Le Balcon) — from Flowers of Evil, serving as an apparent allusion to the first song of the younger Debussy’s song cycle. At the beginning of this semi-improvisational adagio work for piano, lasting a little over two minutes, Debussy invokes the melody from the Baudelaire-inspired prelude “Les sons et les parfums…” with traces of the melody from Canopic jar (Canope) from the second volume of preludes appearing in the middle section, coupled with musically animated yet fragmented snatches from Alternating Thirds (Les Tierces Alternees) and Fireworks (Feux d’Artifice), which conclude Book 2. Sadly, both the sounds and fragrances or the celebrative fireworks belong to another, more innocent world.

In 1917, when Debussy was penning his final composition for piano, World War I was coming to a close, but resources were still scarce. In the extremely harsh winter of that year, one indispensable commodity in particular — coal — was in short supply, and almost impossible to get hold of. A coal merchant that Debussy knew happened to be a music lover, and proposed that the composer write a short piece for him, and give him the manuscript; in return he would do his utmost to divert coal supplies to the Debussy household. Debussy agreed, and composed The Evenings Illuminated by the Burning Coal, a short piece revisiting melodies from some of his legacy works, to create what would be one of his most moving compositions.

(Translated by Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)

即將過去的二○一八年,標誌著第一次世界大戰結束一百週年,也是法國作曲家德布西逝世一百週年。這場戰爭讓歐洲陷入史無前例的生靈塗炭,也對深受癌症之苦的作曲家帶來衝擊。一度停筆無法創作的德布西,最後重新站了起來,帶著更精鍊的作曲風格,著手投入六首器樂奏鳴曲的創作中,仰望法國巴洛克前輩作曲家拉摩與庫普蘭的宮廷音樂風格,同時回顧著自己過去的創作生涯,更將戰時艱難的生活化為創作養分,譜出如水晶般清澈的晚期作品。

德布西的鋼琴獨奏作品今天仍然廣受大眾歡迎,兩冊前奏曲更深受樂迷喜愛。一直到二○○一年才首次從私人收藏中重新問世的鋼琴短曲《煤爐紅焰照亮的夜晚》,不僅是作曲家在一九一七年寫下的最後一首鋼琴獨奏作品,更像是為兩冊前奏曲寫下的跋。

德布西畢生著迷於同胞詩人波德萊爾的詩歌作品,曾將其詩作譜成聯篇藝術歌曲集。在一九一○年出版的第一冊前奏曲中,德布西也在第四首的樂譜結尾處寫下同胞詩人波德萊爾名作《惡之華》其中〈向晚的和諧〉一詩的句子「飄散在暮色中的聲音與馨香」。

《煤爐紅焰照亮的夜晚》標題來自波德萊爾《惡之華》收錄的另一首詩〈陽台〉,曾經在年輕時譜成歌曲。在僅約兩分多鐘、半即興風格的輕柔鋼琴作品中,德布西召喚著「飄散在暮色中的聲音與馨香」的旋律,中段隱約浮現來自第二冊前奏曲的〈埃及古壺〉旋律,以及壓軸兩曲〈交錯三度〉與〈煙火〉的活潑生氣。讓人慨歎的是,馨香與煙火都是屬於另一個無憂的世界。

在德布西寫下這首最後鋼琴作品的一九一七年,第一次世界大戰已逐漸邁入尾聲,卻也是各地資源幾乎耗盡的時刻。在寒冷的那年冬天,家家戶戶的必需品──煤礦──供不應求,有錢也不一定買得到。經常與德布西來往的煤礦商人特隆欽先生是一位愛樂者,遂向作曲家提出一項交易:德布西為他寫下一首短曲,並將手稿致贈給他,那麼他就會盡可能繼續供應煤礦,作曲家遂寫下《煤爐紅焰照亮的夜晚》。德布西彷彿無心插柳、引用過去作品旋律的鋼琴短曲,最後成為他筆下最溫暖動人的旋律。

(台北時報章厚明撰)