The Life and Loves of Claude Debussy - on stage in Chichester

Lucy Parham (pic by Benjamin Ealovega)Lucy Parham (pic by Benjamin Ealovega)
Lucy Parham (pic by Benjamin Ealovega)
Rêverie will evoke The Life and Loves of Claude Debussy in a special entertainment at Chichester Festival Theatre on Wednesday, January 24.

Scripted and performed by pianist Lucy Parham with narration by Henry Goodman, Rêverie explores Debussy’s emotional life through a personal and revealing journal, illuminated by a sequence of his most famous and atmospheric solo piano works.

Lucy said: “Of all the composers that I have featured, I think Debussy is the one who is possibly the most complex human being. He never felt good enough even though his outward persona was rather... well, not arrogant but perhaps rather sharp and maybe sometimes a bit disdainful. But he had women throwing themselves at him. I think of all my shows this is the one where people in the audience gasp the most as Debussy gets bored with one woman and then moves on to someone else and then gets bored with her and then moves on someone else. The audience are thinking ‘What a *******”’ but I do think it comes down to his lack of confidence in himself.”

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So yes, there’s a tangled love life, one that brought illicit trysts in Jersey, a brush with a revolver and even a suicide attempt. But it also brought him his daughter who outlived her father by scarcely a year, succumbing to the diphtheria epidemic of 1919.

“He absolutely doted on her but he died and then she died just months after he did and she was only 14, I believe, but he had actually said that if it had not been for her he would have blown his brains out.”

One of the most prolific and innovative composers of the early 20th century, Claude Debussy absorbed and transformed cultural influences from countries as far apart as Scotland (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair), Japan (Poissons d’Or) and the USA (Golliwogg’s Cake Walk).

The narrative of Rêverie, which takes the form of a personal journal, follows him from his initial success with the Prix de Rome in 1885 to his untimely death in 1918. It is punctuated with solo piano works ranging from the ever-popular lyricism of Clair de Lune, Reverie and The Girl with the Flaxen Hair to such virtuosic showpieces as Jardins sous la Pluie, the Etudes and L’Isle Joyeuse.

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Lucy has been offering her unique music and narration format for 20 years now: “It really began with the story of Robert and Clara Schumann. The story is so well known because it was so well diaried by them and there are so many letters, and I would quite often play a piece and then read from the letters or the diaries. People found it really interesting and I just started to think that there must be another way of doing it rather than just me standing at the side of the stage and reading rather badly, that it would be much better if I had a professional to do it which was quite a leap.”

Since then she's explored the lives of Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Liszt and has also returned to Clara's own story – with a number of actors including Harriet Walter, Juliet Stevenson and Alex Jennings.

But no, there is not a stream of unlimited other possibilities stretching out ahead of her: “It is actually quite limited who I can do. They need to have written quite a lot of piano music. People say ‘Why don't you do Wagner?’ but the answer is ‘No, he didn't write for the piano.’

"But also they've got to have an interesting story. Grieg would be popular but actually Grieg lived a relatively uncomplicated life so it wouldn't really work from that respect.”