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On the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy, Richard Langham Smith relishes the lyrical riches of Théodore de Banville, Alfred de Musset, Paul Bourget, Théophile Gautier and Paul Verlaine, the poets Debussy chose to express his love for an older, married woman, Marie Blanche Vasnier.
Hearing her sing moved Debussy, then an impressionable young student, to create a treasury of songs specially with her voice in mind. Among the many songs he wrote for Madame Vasnier, is the unpublished "La fille aux cheveux de lin". It was the starting point of Debussy's fascination with setting words to music, an obsession that reached a high point in "Pélleas et Mélisande" some twenty years later. But it's Madame Vasnier Debussy acknowledges as "the only muse to ever inspire musical feelings", and that's he confesses, "only to talk of the musical ones!".
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