"In the year 1889 there was revolution in Paris. No shots were fired, no buildings torched, no palaces looted. But on the Champ de Mars and the Esplanades des Invalides, the past and the future fought a world war of ideas. Iron battled stone, Javanese ritual music defied the siege of German orchestration, electricity triumphed over gas. It was a year to celebrate a revolution's centennial, a time to consolidate one hundred years of industry, art and social ideals that flowed from the great events of 1789."
The above paragraph is from an article written by Arthur Chandler entitled: Revolution The Paris Exposition Universelle, 1889. It captures the energy and ambience of this extraordinary time in history and this event.
Complete article found here.
Now imagine that you're Debussy living in Paris in 1889. A young, brilliant composer determined to avoid the German tradition.
Naturally, you are drawn to music of other cultures. The Paris Exposition of 1889 comes to town. You hear Rimsky-Korakov conduct his Capriccio espagnol" at the Trocadéro Palace.
You go to the Javanese Pavillion, which was a model "Kampon"-- a village, recreating all aspects of communal village life from agricultural practices to religion. You spend hours listening to the gamelan music from this island in the Malay Archipelago.
You use some of the different scales you've heard when you improvise on the piano, and also the sense of floating qualities of the form and rhythym in Javanese music. All these find a way into your formally composed music-- especially for piano. In six years, you will compose "La Mer."
Imagine the excitement of living in Paris when he did. He witnessed the building of the Paris metro system and the Eiffel Tower. (See below.) He lived alongside Monet, Renoir, Gaughin, Rodin, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Proust, Mallarmé, Emile Zola to mention only a few. In a few years, the Dreyfus Affair of 1894 would shake the foundations of the French Third Republic. You would have to choose-- Dreyfusard or anti-Dreyfusard? Not a time to sit on the fence. Fin de siècle Paris-- an important nexus of artistic and social activity. What a time to be alive! The Belle Époque has arrived.
A FEW IMAGES FROM THE PARIS EXPOSITION 1889
Built between 1887 and 1889, the Eiffel Tower was contructed as the entrance arch for the Exposition Universelle, the 1889 World's Fair.
Original poster from the 1889 Exposition Universelle
Panorama of the Place de la Concorde at the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1889.
Russian House Exhibition at the 1889 Exposition Universelle
Crowd of people along parterre beside illuminated fountains, view toward the Central Dome, Paris 1889 Exposition Universelle
Illustration of the interior of the Galerie des Machines, designed by Ferdinand Dutert,1889 Exposition Universelle
Gallery of various industries,1889 Exposition Universelle
Entrance to the Javanese Pavillion,1889 Exposition Universelle
Female Javanese dancer, seated in costume,1889 Exposition Universelle
Six people posed before Javanese house in Javanese village, 1889 Exposition Universelle
WATCH THIS FILM! It's an excellent compilation of photos with an interesting voice over at about 1:30 that gives a flavor of the times!
MANY MORE PHOTOS HERE: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS ARCHIVE!
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