Debussy’s musical sketches

Debussy worked on the score of La chute de la maison Usher between 1908 and 1917 but it was never completed.

In 1909 Debussy wrote that he had almost finished Roderick Usher’s monologue: “It almost makes the stones weep…as a matter of fact it is all about the influence of stones on the minds of neurasthenic people. The mustiness is charmingly rendered by contrasting the low notes of the oboe with the harmonics of the violin (a patent device of my own).” Debussy had believed he had been subject to neurasthenia but around this time his doctor diagnosed him as suffering from the rectalcancer which was to kill him. According to Robert Orledge, “Debussy began increasingly to identify with Roderick Usher, whose mental breakdown Poe had identified with the crumbling House itself.” Debussy made three attempts at writing a libretto. Only when he was satisfied with the third one did he produce a short-score draft of the music to the first scene and part of the second in 1916–17. He went no further with Usher before his death in 1918.

The four sketches that formed the basis for Charlie’s new score are shown below:

Debussy – sketch 1 (Prelude)

Augmented fourth motif, whole-tone harmonies and triplet rhythm

Debussy - sketch 1

Debussy – sketch 2

String chord at he start of Roderick’s monologue – C major chord with augmented fourth interval superimposed

Debussy - sketch 2

Debussy – sketch 3

Musical motif accompanying the first entry of the Doctor

Debussy - sketch 3

Debussy – sketch 4

Evocation of Madeline’s decline

Debussy - sketch 4

Orchestration for 2014 tour

4 Woodwind:

  • Piccolo / Flute
  • Oboe / Cor Anglais
  • Clarinet / Bass Clarinet
  • Bassoon / Contrabassoon

4 Brass

  • Horn
  • Trumpet
  • Tenor Trombone
  • Tuba

1 Percussion

  • Percussion

7 Strings

  • Violin 1
  • Violin 2
  • Violin 3
  • Viola 1
  • Viola 2
  • Cello
  • Double Bass

National Youth Wind Orchestra of Wales and Jean Epstein’s film

Rehearsals in April 2012

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Other versions of the unfinished score 

Various composers have completed Debussy’s unfinished score, including Juan Allende Blin, whose version was recorded by EMI. More recently, Robert Orledge’s version was premiered at the Bregenz Festival in 2006.