Impressions Universelles in Jakarta

The Exposition Universelle (World Fair) of 1889 was when Paris celebrated the revolution’s centennial and consolidated one hundred years of industry, art and social ideals that flowed from the great events of 1789 – a turning point in the history of French music, and modern music in general.

Jakarta’s Simfonia Orchestra and Oratorio Society, led by conductor Gabriel Laufer, present Impressions Universelles with music by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, Gamelan from The Museum Geusan Ulun, and Sumedang Dancers from Wonogiri. In collaboration with the French Embassy and the Institut Français Indonesia they celebrate the 130th anniversary of the Eiffel tower, the 1889 Paris World Fair and the “Kampong Javanais”.

It was at the 1889 Paris World Fair that Claude Debussy, a young, brilliant composer was first exposed to the rich Javanese Gamelan music that he himself described as: Their conservatory is the rhythm of the sea, the wind among the leaves, and the thousand sounds of nature…

When I moved to Indonesia while working on my album Lotus Dreams is when I first introduced the gamelan into my compositions. It was then that I appreciated how Claude Debussy must have felt when he was first exposed to this exotic style of music back in 1889.

A year after the World Fair ended, Debussy completed his famous Clair de Lune, based on a poem by Paul Verlaine. Opening words to this poem:

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques …

(Your soul is a chosen landscape
Where charming masquerades and dancers are promenading …)

I imagine Debussy at the Javanese Pavilion, listening to sounds and scales until then completely foreign to his ears and how the sense of floating qualities of form and rhythm in Javanese music — all these, and more, forever touched his work.

May 11, 2019, 5 pm at Aula Simfonia Jakarta