In the summer of 1907 Spanish pianist and composer Manuel de Falla piled up his meager savings and went to Paris in the hope of breaking into the international music scene. He was in for some setbacks.
The jobs he had arranged fell through, and, after playing piano with a traveling pantomime company, he scraped by in Paris by teaching piano and harmony students. “I’m more and more glad that I decided to leave Madrid,” he wrote a friend. “There was no future for me there.”
He set about introducing himself to the city’s major musical figures, but summer was a bad time for it because many of them were out of town, although Frenchman Paul Dukas went out of his way to be helpful and introduced him to the influential Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz.
Getting to know the famous Claude Debussy would not go so smoothly.
Falla finally met him in October, played the piano score of his opera his La vida breve for him, and found the Frenchman’s sarcasm a little intimidating.
A little later, Falla’s shyness made for an even more awkward encounter.
Falla came to visit Debussy, was told that he was out, and was ushered by a servant into a dark alcove off the dining room, a storage space filled with grotesque Chinese masks. After awhile Falla heard Debussy, his wife Emma, and composer Erik Satie come into the dining room and begin lunch. Falla was too timid to enter the dining room unannounced and sat there in the dark alcove, faint from hunger, staring at the weird and ghoulish faces of the masks.
When the chatting and clatter of lunch seemed loud enough to cover his retreat, he slipped into a dim hallway and hastened toward the egress, only to bump headfirst into Debussy’s wife, who screamed.
Even though everybody encouraged Falla to join them for lunch, he was so rattled by the encounter that he made his apologies and departed.