In all the years we’ve lived in the Hudson Valley, we’ve never managed to visit the much-recommended Wethersfield Garden. Its season is short, as are its visitors’ hours, and we seem to think of visiting only at times when it’s closed. Finally, the idea to go and the visitors’ hours matched, so off we went. It’s an elegant formal garden with expansive views.
I happened to be listening to some piano music by Debussy as I looked through photographs from our visit. Wethersfield Garden has peacocks in residence, and I wondered whether Debussy had written anything to do with peacocks. Turns out he had.
The Images (oubliées) were written in 1894, though published only in 1977. According to an account on BBC Radio 3, “. . . the three pieces were dedicated to the teenager daughter of Debussy’s painter friend Henry Lerolle, Yvonne, who was also the composer Ernest Chausson’s niece.” The account continues:
She was obviously something of an attraction for contemporary artists, having been painted by Maurice Denis and Auguste Renoir and photographed by Edgar Degas. The present title of the suite was obviously meant to avoid confusion with the two well-known sets of Images. Debussy described the pieces as “not for brilliantly lit salons . . . but rather conversations between the piano and oneself”. He then recommended with a tongue in cheek: “It is not forbidden furthermore to apply one’s small sensibility to them on nice rainy days”.
The third piece in the suite is entitled Quelques aspects de “Nous n’irons plus au bois” parce qu’il fait un temps insupportable, which has been translated as “Some aspects of the song Nous n’irons plus au bois, because the weather is dreadful.” Over the “central arpeggiated section” appears the comment, “Here the harps imitate to perfection peacocks spreading their tails – or the peacocks imitate harps (as you like it!) and the sky cheers up again in summer clothing.”
Debussy’s Images (oubliées) and Images, Books 1 & 2 (Program notes for Images, Books 1 and 2, may be found here.)
Images (oubliées) (Paul Jacobs)
Images, Book 1 (Marc-André Hamelin)
Bonus Track 1: The Peacock, from Jean Sibelius’s Swanwhite Suite, Op. 54 (1908)
The audio contains the first three pieces in the suite, Påfågeln (The Peacock), Harpan (The Harp), and Tärnorna med rosor (The Maidens with Roses).
Bonus Track 2 (with thanks to Kyle Gann for noting this): The White Peacock, by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Credits: The quotations are from the sources linked in the text. The image of the Renoir painting, Yvonne et Christine Lerolle au piano, may be found here. The photographs, as always unless otherwise indicated, are mine.
I’m not a huge fan of formal gardens. All those obelisks and cone-shaped trees are a bit much. But I’m greatly in favor of the peacocks, and the photo of the statue with the wild hair (a fountain, perhaps?) made me smile.
I enjoyed the comment about pieces not being for brightly lit salons but for “conversation between the piano and oneself,” too. And the Sibelius is nice — very appealing.
shoreacres: Yes, know what you mean about the formal gardens. I’m just inordinately happy to have a new place to explore that’s not an endless drive–and its situation, at just enough of an elevation, does make for extraordinary views (always hard to capture properly by photograph). Yes, the wild hair was a fountain, quite over the top, no? Glad you enjoyed the Sibelius. A brand new discovery for me.
“Conversations between the piano and oneself” is such a nice way to put it. I have a vision of a young girl sitting at piano on a rainy day.
Mark: Yes, exactly. Though I have my frustrations about time spent on the internet, one of the nice things about it is the ability to come up with lovely little bits of back story like this fairly readily.
Looks over-formal to me – the statuary hasn’t had time to weather, unlike the Italian garden of Peto in Ifield here – but your photos are superb as always and the setting is lovely , as they all are on the Hudson. Hope you’ll give us an Olana exposition one day soon.
David: Yes, I agree. I prefer the style of Innisfree–and Olana is of course a beauty. For me, here, the “bottom line” is places to walk that are within reasonable range of home, that have mown paths (so as to limit exposure to deer ticks and poison ivy), and that have attractive things to see. The vistas here are particularly lovely, though I found that hard to capture in the photographs. (Must ask J about the Peto Garden–it’s near her childhood stomping ground, I think, so she may know of it.)
A grand formal garden, the statuary and peacocks enhance it. I could never create one myself but I like the peace and tranquility of subdued nature. Cottage gardens are all very well, but they do excite one’s sensibilities rather.
I could see myself wander about in this garden, perhaps in a light summer frock. (which, clearly, I don’t have and am never likely to own either)
Love the music, very suitable.
Friko: To me, your garden is the absolute ideal, and I (and we!) shall not only never forget it, but hope to get the chance to sit with you and Beloved and Millie in it once more afore too long. So, that said, Your comment about “the peace and tranquility of subdued nature” in a formal garden takes on special significance. Yes, Wethersfield was a lovely place to wander, and a light summer frock would be the perfect garb (which I shall never own, either). So pleased you thought the music suited, too. You’ve entered into the spirit of this post in the most delightful of ways.
to have that most beautiful garden in your neighbourhood – and being there for the first time!
Sue, you have a very gifted eye for photography: the peacock as a “frame” for the landscape: wonderful. And the picture of the feathers… Thank you!
Britta: I thought of you and your love for gardens many times while I was there. And such a high compliment about the photos, coming from you! I had a hard time getting a decent photo of that peacock. Even though it hung around and preened, it kept moving just a little bit, and of course there was the backlight, too!