Downton Abbey Brings Debussy to the Temple

Lucy And Brendan

The well-known pianist, Lucy Parham, has teamed up with Brendan Coyle, better known as John Bates from the popular series, Downtown Abbey, to make sumptuous music together.

Brendan’s role was to lure us into the rather complicated life of Claude Debussy, while Lucy played suitable musical illustration to the informative text. If this sounds a bit instructive and boring it certainly was not; I never realized what a complicated life Debussy led and how this is reflected so clearly in his music.

This boy genius from humble background was accepted at the world famous Conservatoire in Paris at the age of 10, and won the coveted Prix de Rome allowing him a two-year stay at the Villa Medici with other artists. Much reason for joy, one would have thought. But not so for Debussy, who struggled vehemently to find his own way, his unique way of representing his feelings about his life and the world  in which he lived in in his music. Only very close friends were not seen by him as a hindrance to that. His many women and two wives didn't give him much to enjoy, either.

His ambition was to capture the metamorphosis of sound, not 'just the development of a single line of melody'. Les Poissons d’or captures this well, the shimmering, floating effect of the piano, fingers dancing over the keys, just touching so lightly reflect the elegance of the golden carp perfectly. His love song for Lily, his first wife (La fille aux cheveux de lin) shows him at his most romantic, happy self. The stark modernism in Des pas sur la neige illustrates so well Debussy’s artistry; here is a truly modern musician, trying to lead the way for classical music. With L’apresmidi d’un Faune and Clair de lune, he clearly achieved this, and set the tone of what was to come.

One can only wonder what this man would have created had he been with us for longer. Brendan Coyle managed to show us the charm of this complicated, gifted man who died age 33 from cancer, while the elegant, totally absorbed Lucy brought to life all the pieces so we could feel his real power. It will be interesting to see how Dominic West will tackle this gentle, explosive genius when the performance travels to the Wigmore Hall in December. The setting in Middle Temple is peerless, that’s for sure!