Episodes in Virtuosity: Maurice Gendron & Christian Ivaldi Perform Debussy's Sonata for Cello and Piano

The word virtuoso is defined as, "a musician who is a consummate master of technique and artistry." or "… an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability at singing or playing a musical instrument."

When I decided that I was going to be a serious (classical) musician, I regarded this word with esteem and respect. I saw the aspiration for virtuosity as a means of achieving self-actualization, and decided to dedicate my life towards this realization. However, like so many things, after six years of conservatory training the shine wore off this word and I fear that I have lost my reverence for the beautiful. After all, art is the habit of the artist. Nevertheless, it is my intent to use this platform to (re)discoveradmire, and share music/musicians of the highest caliber, in any and all genres, strictly for the purpose of listening to Music worth listening to.

Maurice Gendron & Christian Ivaldi performing Debussy's Sonata for Cello and Piano.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a Frenchman and one of the premier composers of impressionistic music. Like it's parallel art movement, (which it preceded) impressionism in music was more concerned with creating an atmosphere than suggesting any one emotion or telling a programmatic story. Debussy wrote this piece in 1915 as one part of an intended collection of six pieces for diverse instruments. However, he only completed three due to his own mortality and an unfortunate bout with rectal cancer. His ailment leads me exactly where I want to go in terms of connecting the dots of history. 

Within his lifespan, Debussy saw remarkable changes in society from the late 19th century until his death. He was alive for the end of the French Revolution and the July Revolution in 1848 which resulted in the deposition of King Louis-Philippe. He shared time on the planet (and France) with Frederic Chopin – whose death could arguably be attributed to this change in French politics. He was there for the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and composed this sonata with the weight of that incredible happening on his mind. He was also one of the first patients to ever receive a colostomy operation in 1916 one year after composing this piece. This operation was an attempt to combat his cancer which he had been dealing with since being diagnosed in 1909. When he finally succumbed to his illness in 1918 his funeral procession included a march through the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris while German forces bombed the city. 

I refuse to believe that the weight of the world does not change a man or impact his art. Art and Music does not and can not exist in a bubble. It is of course influenced by those who create them, which are in turn influenced by the world in which they live. 

Let's move on to the performers. The video is from 1967, and the world during this era was every bit as turbulent as the world in which Debussy lived. Maurice Gendron and Christian Ivaldi were experiencing the Vietnam War and the fear of communism and global nuclear war. The recent assassination of President JFK, Beetle-mania, the hippie revolution, the first Superbowl, the launching of Apollo I and the birth of the space race, the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, and the marriage of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. They were people living in the world before man ever walked on the moon, before Steve Jobs, Microsoft Windows, smart phones and Xbox. They hadn't yet heard Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, John Coltrane's Giant Steps, or John Cage's 4'33''. Johnny Cash hadn't played Folsom Prison yet, and they were 34 years away from the iTunes store. 

It's so easy to assume that the world began with our own lives, and so easy to forget that historical figures existed within the context of the whole – not just within their own contribution to it. For me, being historically aware makes music more meaningful and makes the music more impactful and beautiful. It also humanizes the artists and hopefully makes connecting to what might be otherwise outside your comfort zone or area of expertise easier. 

I believe that this video is a premier example of this belief and hope that you take the brief eleven mintues or so from your day to pause, listen, watch, and consider the realities of this performance. Music and musicians do not exist in isolation. We carry the events of history and our lives with us in everything we do, and whether we choose to ackowledge it or not, the evolution of musical and social history are neccessary as precursor and predecessor to the music we enjoy today. You dig?