Wednesday, 22 August 2012


Claude Debussy
French composer Claude Debussy was born on 22 August 1862, 150 years ago today.  Fantasy Bob acknowledges that there is not much to interest the cricketer in that fact.  Nor indeed is there much to interest the cricketer in Debussy's musical output.  There is not much evidence that Debussy took any interest in cricket himself.  Being French, he was more interested in symbolist poetry and the like than swing bowling.

However Debussy may well have had some exposure to cricket.  In the summer of 1905, he spent some time in Eastbourne putting the finishing touches to one of his most important works La Mer, which received its premiere later than year.   He stayed at the Grand Hotel.  At exactly the same time as he was in Eastbourne, Sussex played Surrey in the County Championship at the Saffrons Cricket Ground in Eastbourne.  Surrey were skippered by Lord Dalmeny, who in 1906 became MP for Edinburghshire.  He succeeded to the title Earl of Roseberry in 1929 and served briefly as Secretary of State for Scotland.

Lord Dalmeny
It is hard for FB to imagine Lord Dalmeny staying at anywhere other than the Grand Hotel during his visit to Eastbourne, unless he had a convenient country estate hard by.  Debussy may well have encountered him in the dining room and politely asked about the prospects for that day's play.

In the Surrey team was Jack Hobbs who had received his county cap from Dalmeny earlier that season, his first in First Class cricket.  As a professional, there is no way that Hobbs would have stayed in the Grand. Hotel, so a meeting between him and Debussy is unlikely.  Had that taken place, his Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune would surely have been renamed Prelude a l'apres midi d'un opening batsman.

Surrey won the match by 7 wickets.  Sussex may have been handicapped by the absence of their greatest player C B Fry, still reputed to be England's greatest ever sportsman.  Fry topped the First Class averages that season making 2801 runs at 70.02, with 10 centuries.  Hobbs scored 1317 at 25.82 and Dalmeny 1141 at 24.80.

A match at the Saffrons 1910
Saffrons is a splendid name for a cricket ground.  Alas it is no longer a First Class Ground but between 1896 and 2000, 226 First Class matches were played. Had Debussy been aware of such a mellifluously titled ground, FB is sure he would have been inspired to a couple of piano miniatures.  For these were also on his mind in Eastbourne.  In 1905 he significantly revised his Suite Bergamasque which contains his best known piece Claire de Lune. It is hard to believe that this piece was not inspired by Hobbs' batting - Angela Hewitt plays in beautifully on this link.   Perhaps he played it to the guests in the hotel, Dalmeny and gentlemen players included.  Perhaps it was the inspiration for their triumph on the field of play that week.

So Debussy is may be not of such little interest to the cricketer after all.

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