Fate Extra How to Beat Robin Hood

In April 1902 the Opéra-Comique put on Debussy’s opera Pelléas and Mélisande, and the following January he was decorated as a chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. His immediate response to such public recognition, paradoxical but typical, was to retreat from anything approaching fame into his private world. It's fair to say that the Estampes, written in the summer of 1903, mark the first real sign of him bending the piano to his will, in the way he had bent the orchestra in Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, and he seems to have been inspired to some degree by Ravel’s Jeux d’eau (Ravel thought so, at least) which had appeared in 1901 and made Lisztian glitter acceptable to French taste.

Although the title Estampes is the standard French term for Japanese prints, a more likely source for 'Pagodes', often thought to reflect Debussy's memories of the Javanese gamelan at the 1889 Paris Exhibition, was the next Exhibition of 1900, to which we know Debussy went with the painter Jacques-Émile Blanche, specifically to hear these same instruments. Although the piece begins with the traditional five notes of the pentatonic system (familiar to us from Scottish folk tunes, among others), almost immediately Debussy starts coloring the harmony with external notes. These are all the more telling for the initial indication ‘délicatement et presque sans nuances’ — the composer's evocation of Asian impassivity, with any tune / accompaniment contrast reduced to a minimum. But the contrast, when it does come, is extreme, ranging from pianissimo to fortissimo and back again, and setting off the final texture of three layers, as so often with Debussy: low, long bell notes; a theme in the middle; and, high in the right hand, fast pentatonic ornamentation — although using a different set of five notes from the one at the start.

‘La soirée dans Grenade’ was possibly inspired by the nocturnal gypsy performances entitled ‘Andalusia in Moorish times’, also at the 1900 Exhibition, and was the first Debussy piano piece to acknowledge his three-layer propensities by using three staves. The first example of this in French music was probably Chabrier’s Habanera of 1885, which Debussy undoubtedly knew, and it’s probably no coincidence that this second Estampe is headed Mouvement de Habanera ’. The pianist is also directed to ‘begin slowly in a nonchalantly graceful rhythm’, which harks back to the unemphatic opening of ‘Pagodes’. But after the appearance of a Moorish theme in the left hand (played by Debussy on his 1913 piano roll with considerable rubato), energy is soon injected into the proceedings in the form of a strumming guitar, and overall the piece conforms to the traditional French View of Spain as a country populated by people for whom suddenness and contrast were a way of life — one minute wild abandon, the next extreme indolence.

Finally, in 'Jardins sous la pluie', encored at the suite's first performance by Ricardo Viñes on 9 January 1904, Debussy comes home and explores corners of his own memory: popular songs (including 'Nous n'irons plus au bois' and the hopeful 'Do, do, l'enfant do, l'enfant dormira bientôt') rub shoulders with, of all things, a modulation straight out of Isolde's 'Liebestod'. But the opening volley of semiquavers testifies to Debussy's links with the French keyboard tradition: three months after Viñes' performance the composer was defining French music as' clarity, elegance, simple, natural declamation… Couperin, Rameau, they were true Frenchmen! 'On another level, like the beginning of Ravel's L’enfant et les sortilèges twenty years later, the whole encapsulates a child’s ennui — the garden, symbol of pleasure, under the spell of rain, symbol of implacable fate; until, at the end, all is resolved as the sun comes out in a blaze of E major.

Explaining a composer's music by means of his life can be a dangerous business. In the case of L’isle joyeuse, for example, it has often been assumed that the ‘happy isle’ of the piece’s title was Jersey where, in July 1904, Debussy had eloped with Emma Bardac, after packing his wife off to her parents in Normandy. In fact, L’isle joyeuse seems to have been complete in some form or other as early as June 1903, when he played it to Viñes, who was to give its first performance in February 1905. All we know of its relation to Jersey is that Debussy was copying it out there for his publisher in early August 1904.

The other external influence on the piece is often quoted is Watteau’s painting L’embarquement pour Cythère. A letter from Debussy published only in 2005 shows this to have been true up to a point. An organist had written, asking for advice on how to play his music. Typically, he refused to give any such blanket testimony but, after suggesting, with the merest whiff of vinegar, that the title might possibly be a help, Debussy went on to say that ‘there’s also a bit of L’embarquement pour Cythère with less melancholy than in Watteau: you find the masks of the commedia dell’arte, young women singing and dancing; everything culminating in the glory of the setting sun ’. While not necessarily relevant to our enjoyment of the piece, Debussy’s awareness of the painting’s melancholy deserves to be saluted: as Edward Lucie-Smith has pointed out, the title would more correctly be ‘Departure from the Isle of Cythera ’and‘ the three pairs of lovers… represent in fact different aspects of the same couple and the same relationship… the third pair, moving off, look back regretfully. One must nevertheless admit that the smiling ambiguity which allowed a radical misrepresentation of its subject-matter is a large part of the picture’s charm ... ’

Certainly there is ambiguity in the opening trill and cadenza, based on the whole-tone scale that had served for the darker moments in Pelléas and Mélisande. These recur twice, the second time on the last page where they are absorbed into the passionate waltz tune. The work’s extraordinary energy is expressed throughout in dotted rhythms, rippling triplets, sounding trumpets, and a final Lisztian gesture that takes in the whole keyboard. No regrets here.

The six pieces contained in the two books of Debussy’s Images were, as their name indicates, the product of Debussy the art-lover (one might say Debussy the ‘see-er’). They perhaps derive ultimately from his early reading of Baudelaire, who declared that ‘the whole visible universe is nothing but a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination will give a relative place and value; it is a kind of pasture for the imagination to digest and transform '. The poet also gave voice to this thought in his famous poem Correspondances ’in the collection Les fleurs du mal, initially banned by the censor in 1857 and for that reason, among others, required reading for the artistic young of the following decades: "Scents, colors and sounds reflect one another."

The six Images were in Debussy's mind in some form as early as December 1901, when he played versions of two of them ('Reflets dans l'eau' and 'Mouvement') to Ricardo Viñes, but the complete list of titles was not fixed until July 1903 When he sent these to the publisher Fromont. He had just completed the Estampes, and the Images, the first book of which was published in October 1905, can be heard as a development along the same colouristic lines, following earlier intimations in various pieces by Chabrier and in Ravel’s Jeux d’eau. The technique has been called one of illusion — what you see on the printed page is often not at all what you get, depending largely on your use of the sustaining pedal — but equally Debussy shared the concerns of such 'colorful' composers as Berlioz and Liszt that overtly descriptive music should also work in purely structural terms.

The small wave forms of ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ and its key of D flat major might suggest it was a spin-off from La mer, except that the above chronology points, if anything, to the relationship being reversed. Debussy jokingly referred to the piece as being written ‘according to the most recent discoveries in harmonic chemistry’. While this is, no doubt intentionally, a trifle exaggerated, what is disturbing is the way the dreamlike opening, a standard eight-bar phrase, is immediately interrupted by chromatic chords: throughout the piece, the reflections in the water go on being unsettled by pebbles thrown from an unseen hand. The essential circularity of this piece is echoed in the final "Mouvement", which is almost an early Etude (‘Pour les triolets’?). Marked to be played ‘with a fantastic but precise lightness’, it achieves an extraordinary rapprochement between academic note-spinning and imaginative atmosphere, with a few fanfares added for good measure. The central 'Hommage à Rameau', while outwardly placid and monumental, partakes of more traditional rhetorical structures and of the effortless internal dynamism that is so much a part of the genius of Rameau, 'without any of that pretence towards German profundity, or to the need of emphasizing things with blows of the fist ', as Debussy put it when reviewing a performance of the first two acts of Rameau's Castor and Pollux in 1903 — which possibly inspired his piece, although searches for direct quotations from the earlier composer have so far proved fruitless.

Heavy pounding is even further banished in the second book of Images, published in October 1907. In "Cloches à travers les feuilles", apart from two forte chords in the middle, the dynamics are set at piano and below. Within these narrow confines, Debussy explores the idea of ​​bells sounding through leaves, or at least through some substance that flickers and undulates. Although the title of this piece already figures in Debussy's contract of October 1903, it is at least possible, given his rivalry with Ravel, that in composing the piece Debussy took note of the younger composer's 'La vallée des cloches', published in early 1906 , even if only in the determination to write something as different as possible. The demands on the pianist, in the balancing of lines, are extreme: again, the piece could almost be an Etude—‘Pour les lignes superposées ’? The second panel of the triptych, 'Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut', leads on from 'Pagodes' in the Estampes in its exploitation, not so much of Oriental sounds like the gamelan (though these are certainly present) as of an Oriental stillness and stasis. The first chord belongs, in the Western tradition, as part of a sixteenth-century cadence, achieved through part-writing: Debussy gives it a quite new feeling by treating it as a non-cadential chord with no sense of part-writing whatever, just as a sound in itself. Like the ruined temple, it has survived, but in a new world and with a new function. Finally, ‘Poissons d’or’ charts the imagined swoops and twitches of two large carp as featured on a Japanese plaque in black lacquer, touched up with mother-of-pearl and gold, that hung on the wall of Debussy’s study. Here we do indeed find him enjoying the most recent discoveries in harmonic chemistry ’, and taking the static well motif’ from Pelléas and investing it with piscine acrobatics.

In 1906, an otherwise empty year for him, Debussy wrote a piece for a Méthode Moderne de piano being put together by a lady who rejoiced in the name of Octavie Carrier-Belleuse. Although this volume was not published until 1910, in the meantime Debussy had incorporated his contribution as "Serenade for the doll" into the suite Children's Corner, completed in July 1908 and published a couple of months later. He and his second wife Emma had a daughter, nicknamed Chouchou, in 1905, and the suite is dedicated to her with her Father’s tender apologies for what follows ’. Having admitted, a few days after his daughter’s birth, that the joy it brought also ‘somewhat overwhelmed and terrified’ him, he turned out to be a most loving and attentive father, whose relations with Chouchou were altogether smoother than those with Emma.

In 'Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum' we hear the child practicing diligently, then daydreaming, then recalled to the straight and narrow path. Debussy was constantly watchful over the way old habits could invade and tarnish the allure of imaginative ideas, and here he may be said to get his revenge by working in reverse, starting off with a dry, habitual exercise and then 'imaginifying' it. He told his publisher that it was a piece to be played very early in the morning, no doubt to get the system going. 'Jimbo's lullaby' lulls the toy elephant with the traditional rocking movement and intervals of the major 2nd borrowed from Musorgsky, while in 'Serenade for the doll' Debussy shows his genius as a composer of light music — one friend was sure Debussy could have solved all his financial problems with just one operetta, but the composer always had deeper thoughts in view. ‘The snow is dancing’ again borrows, this time from the Silent dance of the drops of dew ’in Massenet’s opera Cendrillon of 1899, and its unceasing semiquaver movement prefigures the exercises in monotony that were to be so popular in Paris in the 1920s (Pacific 231 other Bolero for a start). If ‘The little shepherd’ touches on more profound emotions — liberty, non-conformity, solitude — and may be taken as a spin-off from the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, the ‘Golliwogg’s cake-walk’ is pure fun and, in the middle section, at Tristan and Isolde’s expense. Darius Milhaud in his younger, more strait-laced days was, he later admitted, shocked at such an introduction of ‘vulgar’ music into the ‘serious’ repertoire; and indeed when, during the first performance by Harold Bauer in December 1908, Debussy was found pacing nervously outside the hall, it was out of anxiety in case Wagnerophiles in the audience might take open. Happy to record, they laughed in all the right places.

The operetta ’side of Debussy comes across again in the waltz La plus que lente, written in 1910 apparently for M. Leoni, the leader of the little orchestra of the Carlton Hotel in Paris. Although it is self-evidently a light-hearted piece (when a M. Mouton chose to orchestrate it with trombones and timpani, Debussy substituted his own version using a cymbalom ...), it does contain some sophisticated and enchanting harmonic turns that even look forward to the Études of 1915. As he said of one of those masterpieces, "one does not catch flies with vinegar".

Roger Nichols © 2018

En avril 1902, l’Opéra-Comique monta Pelléas and Mélisande, le drame lyrique de Claude Debussy. Ce dernier fut fait chevalier de la Légion d'honneur au mois de janvier suivant. Sa réponse immédiate à une telle reconnaissance publique, réponse paradoxale mais typique, fut de se retirer de tout ce qui pouvait s’approcher de la célébrité, dans son univers personnel. Les Estampes, écrites au cours de l’été 1903, marquent le premier signe réel de Debussy pliant le piano à sa volonté, comme il avait fait plier l’orchestre dans le Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, et il semble avoir été inspiré dans une certaine mesure par les Jeux d’eau de Ravel (c’est du moins ce que pensait Ravel), parus en 1901 et qui avaient rendu l’éclat lisztien acceptable au goût français.

Bien que le titre Estampes soit le terme français usuel pour désigner des gravures japonaises, une source d'inspiration plus probable pour «Pagodes» —dont on pense souvent qu'elles reflètent les souvenirs du gamelan javanais que Debussy avait découvert à l'Exposition universelle de Paris de 1889— serait l'Exposition suivante, cell de 1900. On the other hand, Debussy s'y rendit avec le peintre Jacques-Émile Blanche, pour entender en particulier ces mêmes instruments. Même si le morceau débute par les cinq notes traditionnelles du système pentatonique (bien connues outre Manche, notamment au travers des airs traditionnels écossais), Debussy commence presque d’emblée à colorer l’harmonie avec des notes étrangères.Elles sont d’autant plus éloquentes que l’indication initiale “délicatement et presque sans nuances” évoque l’impassibilité asiatique; le moindre contraste entre mélodie et accompagnement étant réduit au minimum. Mais le contraste, quand il survient, est extremes, de pianissimo à fortissimo et inversement, et il déclenche la texture finale en trois couches, comme si souvent chez Debussy: des effets de cloches longs et graves; un thème au milieu; et, dans l’aigu de la main droite, une ornementation pentatonique rapide — mais sur un groupe de cinq notes différent de celui du début.

“La soirée dans Grenade” fut peut-être inspirée par les exécutions nocturnes de gitans intitulées “L'Andalousie au temps des Maures”, également à l’Exposition universelle de 1900; et ce fut la première pièce pour piano de Debussy dans laquelle se materialize sa propension à noter les trois couches sur trois portées. The premier example in the musique française fut probablement la Habanera (1885) de Chabrier, que Debussy connaissait sans aucun doute, et ce n’est probablement pas une coïncidence si cette deuxième Estampe porte l’indication «Mouvement de Habanera». This is also demandé au pianiste de “commencer lentement dans un rythme nonchalamment gracieux”, ce qui rappelle le début assez sobre de “Pagodes”. Mais après l'apparition d'un thème maure à la main gauche (que Debussy avait enregistré en 1913 avec beaucoup de rubato sur les pianos mécaniques à rouleaux perforés), une certaine énergie est introduite peu après dans le déroulement de l'œuvre sous la forme d'une guitare que l'on gratte; dans l’ensemble, ce morceau est conforme à la vision française traditionnelle de l’Espagne considérée comme un pays peuplé de gens pour qui la soudaineté et le contraste sont un mode de vie — a minute de fol abandon suivie d’une extrême indolence.

Pour finir, Debussy revient au bercail dans les “Jardins sous la pluie”, bissés lors de la première execution de la suite par Ricardo Viñes le 9 janvier 1904, et il explore des recoins de sa propre mémoire: des chansons populaires (notamment “Nous n'irons plus au bois "et la chanson pleine d'espoir" Thu, thu, l'enfant do, l'enfant dormira bientôt ") côtoient, allez savoir pourquoi, une modulation directement issue du" Liebestod "d'Isolde. Mais le torrent initial de doubles croches témoigne des liens qui relient Debussy à la tradition pianistique française: trois mois après l'exécution de Viñes, le compositeur définissait la musique française comme «la clarté, l'élégance, la déclamation simple and naturelle… , Rameau, voilà de vrais Français! » À un autre level, comme le début de L’enfant et les sortilèges de Ravel, vingt ans plus tard, tout résume l’ennui d’un enfant — le jardin, symbols de plaisir, sous l’emprise de la pluie, symbols d’un destin implacable; jusqu’à ce que tout rentre dans l’ordre à la fin, lorsque le soleil paraît dans une explosion de mi majeur.

Expliquer la musique d'un compositeur par le biais de sa vie peut être dangereux. Dans le cas de L’isle joyeuse, par example, on a souvent supposé que l ’" île joyeuse "you titre du morceau était Jersey où Debussy s’était enfui avec Emma Bardac en juillet 1904, après avoir expédié sa femme chez ses parents en Normandie. En fait, L’isle joyeuse semble avoir été achevée, sous une forme ou une autre, dès le mois de juin 1903, où il joua ce morceau à Viñes, qui devait en donner la création en février 1905. Tout ce que l'on sait du lien de cette pièce avec Jersey, c'est que Debussy l'y copia pour son éditeur au début du mois d'août 1904.

L’autre influence extérieure souvent citée à propos de cette pièce est le tableau de Watteau L’embarquement pour Cythère. Une lettre de Debussy publiée seulement en 2005 montre que c’est vrai jusqu’à un certain point. Un organiste lui avait écrit pour lui demander conseil sur la manière de jouer sa musique. Fidèle à lui même, il refusa d’accorder la moindre indication mais suggéra dans la foulée et non sans un soupçon d’ironie que le titre contenait peut-être un indice; Debussy poursuivit: «C’est un peu aussi L’embarquement pour Cythère avec moins de mélancolie que dans Watteau: on y rencontre des masques de la comédie italienne, des jeunes femmes chantant et dansant; tout se terminant dans la gloire du soleil couchant. » Sans être nécessairement utile pour apprécier cette pièce, la prize de conscience par Debussy de la mélancolie du tableau mérite d’être saluée: comme l’a souligné Edward Lucie-Smith, le titre "Départ de l’île de Cythère »serait plus correct et« les trois couples d’amoureux… représentent en fait différents aspects du même couple et les mêmes relations… le troisième couple, qui s’en va, regarde derrière lui avec regret. Néanmoins, il faut admettre que l’ambiguïté souriante qui a donné lieu à une presentation déformée de son subject fait en grande partie le charme du tableau… »

Il y a assurément une certaine ambiguïté dans le trille initial et la cadence, bases sur la gamme par tons qui avait servi aux moments les plus sombres dans Pelléas and Mélisande. Ils reviennent deux fois, la seconde à la dernière page où ils sont absorbés dans un air de valse passionné. L’extraordinaire énergie de cette œuvre s’exprime du début à la fin en rythmes pointés, en cascades de triolets, en effets de trompette, et dans un geste final lisztien qui couvre la totalité du clavier. Sans regret.

Les six pièces des deux cahiers d ’Images furent, comme leur nom l’indique, le produit du Debussy amateur d’art (du Debussy “visionnaire”, pourrait-on dire). Elles viennent peut-être, en définitive, de sa lecture précoce de Baudelaire pour qui: “Tout l’univers visible n’est qu’un magasin d’images et de signes auxquels l’imagination donnera une place et une valeur relative; c’est une espèce de pâture que l’imagination doit digérer et transformer. " Cette pensée, le poète l’exprima also dans son célèbre poème “Correspondances”, tiré du recueil Les fleurs du mal, d’abord censuré en 1857 et devant être lu, à ce titre mais pas seulement, par la jeunesse artistique des décennies suivantes: "Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent."

Debussy avait à l’esprit les six Images dès decembre 1901, quand il joua une version de deux d'entre elles ("Reflets dans l'eau" et "Mouvement") au pianiste Ricardo Viñes, mais la liste complete des titres ne fut pas arrêtée avant juillet 1903, date de son envoi à l'éditeur Fromont. The venait de terminer les Estampes et on peut envisager les Images—Dont le premier cahier parut en octobre 1905 — comme un développement appuyé sur les mêmes lignes de coloriste, en suivant ce que suggéraient les partitions antérieures de Chabrier et les Jeux d’eau de Ravel. Cette technique eut beau être qualifiée d '"illusion" —ce que l'on voit sur la page imprimée n'a souvent rien à voir avec le résultat, lequel dépend, essentiellement, de l'usage que l'on fait de la pédale de prolongation—, Debussy partageait les soucis de compositeurs "coloristes" comme Berlioz ou Liszt, pour qui la musique descriptive devait also fonctionner en termes purement structuraux.

The formes de vaguelettes et la tonalité de ré bémol majeur pourraient laisser penser que les "Reflets dans l’eau" sont issus de La mer, see que la chronologie susmentionnée indique plutôt le contraire. Debussy disait de cette pièce, en plaisantant, qu’elle avait été écrite "selon les découvertes les plus récentes de la chimie harmonique". Même si c'est un peu exagéré, intentionnellement sans aucun doute, on est perturbé par la manière dont l'ouverture onirique — une phrase standard de huit mesures — est immédiatement interrompue par des accords chromatiques: tout au long du morceau, des cailloux lancés par une main invisible viennent sans cesse troubler les reflets dans l'eau. The circularité fondamentale de cette pièce trouve un echo dans le "Mouvement" final, qui est presque une Etude précoce («Pour les triolets»?). Devant être joué "avec une légèreté fantastique mais précise", il réussit un extraordinaire rapprochement entre filage de notes académique et atmosphere originale avec ajout de quelques fanfares pour faire bonne mesure. L ’“ Hommage à Rameau ”central, malgré son apparence placide et monumentale, representing largement les structures rhétoriques traditionnelles et l’infatigable dynamisme internal inherent au génie de Rameau. Il ne possède pourtant rien de cette prétention à la profondeur allemande ni de ce besoin d’insister sur les choses à coups de poing, comme le dira en substance Debussy dans un compte-rendu (1903) des deux premiers actes du Castor and Pollux de Rameau — dont il s’inspira peut-être pour son “homage” même si, pour l’heure, aucune citation directe n’a pu être trouvée.

Le lourd martèlement est encore davantage banni du second cahier d ’Images, paru en octobre 1907. In “Cloches à travers les feuilles”, hormis two accords forte au milieu, la dynamique s'en tient au maximum à la nuance piano — des limites étroites dans lesquelles Debussy explore l'idée de cloches tintant à travers des feuilles ou, du moins, à travers une substance qui frémit et ondoie. Comme nous l'avons vu, Debussy avait arrêté le titre de cette pièce dès 1903 mais, connaissant sa rivalité avec Ravel, il se peut qu'il ait repéré “La vallée des cloches” de son cadet, publiée au début de 1906, ne fût-ce que pour s'en démarquer à tout prix. Les contraintes imposées au pianiste dans l’équilibre des lignes sont extremes: là encore, ce pourrait presque être une Etude- «Pour les lignes superposées»? Le deuxième volet du triptyque, “Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut”, procède de “Pagodes” (dans les Estampes) dans son exploitation, non pas tant de sonorités orientales comme celles du gamelan — même si elles sont assurément là — que d’une quiétude et d’un équilibre orientaux. Le premier accord appartient, dans la tradition occidentale, à une cadence du XVIe siècle, obtenue via la conduite des parties: Debussy lui donne un tour absolument neuf en le traitant comme un accord non cadentiel, sans conduite des parties aucune, juste comme un son en soi. Comme le temple qui fut, il a survécu, mais dans un monde nouveau, avec une fonction nouvelle. Pour terminer, "Poissons d’or" dessine les plongeons et les coups secs imaginaires de deux grandes carpes comme celles figurant sur une plaque japonaise en laque noire, retouchée de boutons en nacre et en or, et suspendue au mur du bureau de Debussy. Ici, il se délecte vraiment des “découvertes les plus récentes de la chimie harmonique” et prend le statique “motif de la fontaine” de Pelléas pour y incruster des acrobaties de poissons.

En 1906, une année vide pour lui par ailleurs, Debussy écrivit un morceau pour une Méthode Moderne de piano coordonnée par une dame qui avait l’insigne honneur de s’appeler Octavie Carrier-Belleuse. Bien que ce volume n’ait pas été publié avant 1910, Debussy avait entretemps incorporé a contribution sous le titre “Serenade for the doll” (“Sérénade à la poupée”) in the suite Children's Corner, achevée en juillet 1908 et publiée quelques mois plus tard. Avec sa seconde femme Emma, ​​ils avaient eu une fille, surnommée Chouchou, en 1905, et la suite lui est dédiée “avec les tendres excuses de son père pour ce qui va suivre”. Ayant admis, quelques jours après la naissance de sa fille, que la joie procurée par l'événement "m'a un peu bouleversé et m'effraie encore", il s'avéra être un père très aimant et attentif, dont les relations avec Chouchou furent dans l'ensemble plus douces que celles avec Emma.

In "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum", on entend l’enfant s’exercer avec zèle, puis rêvasser, puis ramenée dans le droit et étroit chemin. Debussy fut toujours attentif à la manière dont les vieilles habitudes pouvaient envahir et ternir l'attrait des idées pleines d'imagination et ici on peut dire qu'il se venge en travaillant en sens inverse, en commençant par un exercice aride et habituel, puis en laissant parler son imagination. Il dit à son éditeur que c’était un morceau à jouer très tôt le matin, sans doute pour faire marcher le système. “Jimbo's lullaby” (“La berceuse de l'éléphant”) ends l'éléphant en peluche avec le mouvement de balancement traditionnel et les intervalles de la seconde majeure empruntés à Moussorgski, tandis que dans la “Serenade for the doll” Debussy montre son génie en tant que compositeur de musique légère — un de ses amis était persuadé que Debussy aurait pu résoudre tous sesproblemèmes financiers avec une opérette seulement, mais le compositeur avait toujours en vue des pensées plus profondes. "The snow is dancing" ("La neige danse") encouraged à nouveau, cette fois à la "Danse silencieuse des gouttes de rosée" de l’opéra de Massenet Cendrillon de 1899, et son mouvement en doubles croches incessantes préfigure les exercices de monotonie qui allaient devenir si popular à Paris dans les années 1920 (pour commencer, Pacific 231 et le Bolero). Si “The little shepherd” (“Le petit berger”) aborde des émotions plus profondes — la liberté, le non-conformisme, la solitude — et peut être pris pour un dérivé du Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, the "Golliwogg’s cake-walk" is pure amusement et, in the section centrale, aux dépens de Tristan et Isolde. Darius Milhaud admit plus tard que lorsqu’il était plus jeune et plus collet monté, il avait été choqué par une telle introduction de musique «vulgaire» dans le repertoire «sérieux»; et lors de la création par Harold Bauer en décembre 1908, Debussy faisait les cent pas nerveusement à l’extérieur de la salle, très inquiet que, dans le public, des wagnerophiles risquent de se vexer. Par chance, ils rirent aux bons moments.

Le côté "opérette" de Debussy transparaît à nouveau dans la valse La plus que lente, écrite en 1910 apparemment pour «M. Leoni », violon solo du petit orchester de l’Hôtel Carlton à Paris. Même s'il s'agit de toute évidence d'un morceau léger (quand un certain "M. Mouton" décida de l'orchestrer avec des trombones et des timbales, Debussy lui substita sa propre version en utilisant un cymbalum ...), il contient vraiment quelques tournures harmoniques sophistiquées et ravissantes qui anticipent les Études de 1915. Comme il le dit de l’un de ces chefs-d’œuvre, “on n’attrape pas les mouches avec du vinaigre”.

Roger Nichols © 2018
Français: Marie-Stella Pà ¢ ris

In April 1902 the Opéra-Comique Debussys continued Pelléas and Mélisande on the program; the following January the composer was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor. His reaction to public recognition was as contradictory as it was telling: he withdrew into private life from anything that had anything to do with fame. They rightly apply Estampes, written in the summer of 1903, as the first composition in which he completely subordinated the piano to his creative will, as he did in the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune had defeated the orchestra. To a certain extent, ravel seems to him here Jeux d’eau to have suggested (at least that is what Ravel himself said), which appeared in 1901 and had transformed Liszt’s brilliance into French taste.

The title Estampes denotes Japanese woodcuts in French. But it is more likely that the suggestion for “Pagodes” - often thought to be Debussy's creative echo of the Javanese gamelan of the 1889 World's Fair - goes back to the following World's Fair in 1900, which Debussy and the painter Jacques-Émile Blanche had for the sole purpose visited to hear this ensemble. Although the piece now begins with the familiar five notes of the pentatonic scale (as is also known from Scottish folk songs), Debussy immediately begins to color the harmony with foreign notes. They are all the more noticeable when Debussy at the beginning demands “délicatement et presque sans nuances” (“delicate and almost without gradations”); By almost completely renouncing the contrast between melody and accompaniment, the composer wanted to convey an idea of ​​Asian equanimity.If, however, there are contrast effects, they are too violent: They reach from pianissimo to fortissimo and back, and in them the threefold layering of the movement that is finally achieved, typical of Debussy, becomes clear: low bell tones, a theme in the middle register and rapid pentatonic figurations high in the right hand, which, however, come from a different scale than at the beginning.

The suggestion for “La soirée dans Grenade” probably came from the nightly gypsy performances with the title “Andalusia during the Moors' time”, also during the world exhibition in 1900; For the first time, Debussy's preference for a three-layer piano setting is reflected in a notation on three staves. The first example of this in French music was probably that Habanera by Emmanuel Chabrier from 1885, whom Debussy undoubtedly knew; and it is probably no coincidence that this second Estampe "Mouvement de Habanera" is headed. In addition, the pianist should "begin slowly and with an unconstrained, graceful rhythm", an echo of the calm beginning of the "Pagodes". But after a Moorish theme appears in the left hand (Debussy plays it with copious rubato on a piano roll from 1913), the progression through guitar chords picks up speed. On the whole, the play corresponds to the image that people in France had of Spain: a country whose inhabitants live in volatility and contrasts - at first unrestrainedly wild, then suddenly extremely sluggish.

Finally, in “Jardins sous la pluie” - Ricardo Viñes had to repeat it at the premiere on January 9, 1904 - Debussy enters his home country and finds something in his own memory: folk songs, including “Nous n'irons plus au bois” and the hopeful “Do, do, l'enfant do, l'enfant dormira bientôt” are right next to a modulation from Isolde's “Liebestod”. The whirring sixteenths at the beginning testify Debussy's attachment to the tradition of French keyboard music: three months after the performance by Viñes, Debussy defined French music as "clarity, elegance, the simple, natural declamation ... Couperin, Rameau, they were true French!" Level of meaning describes the whole - like the beginning of Ravels L’enfant et les sortilèges- the boredom of a child: the garden, symbol of play and fun, in the falling rain, which represents the inexorable fate; until at the end, when the sun finally breaks through, everything dissolves in radiant E major.

It is not without risk to try to explain the music of a composer with his biography. In case of L’isle joyeuse for example, it was often assumed that the "island of joy" meant Jersey, where Debussy ran off with Emma Bardac in July 1904 after sending his wife to live with her parents in Normandy. In fact, it seems L’isle joyeuse to have been as good as finished in June 1903 when Debussy Viñes performed the piece, which premiered in February 1905. The only connection to Jersey seems to be that Debussy made a fair copy there for his publisher.

Another source of inspiration is often referred to: Watteau's painting L’embarquement pour Cythère. It was not until 2005 that a letter from Debussy was published, which in a certain way even confirmed this. An organist wrote to him asking for tips on how to play his music. Debussy was reluctant to provide simple instructions for use. But after giving the somewhat snappy hint that the title might be useful, he continued: “It's also something of the Embarquement pour Cythère in it, only less melancholy than in Watteau: Here you can see the masks of the Commedia dell’arte, young women dancing and singing; and everything ends in a wonderful sunset. ”It may not necessarily contribute to the understanding of the piece, but it speaks for Debussy's artistic understanding that he appreciates the melancholy of the painting. Edward Lucie-Smith pointed out that the title should actually be “Departure from Kythera”: “The three lovers ... really represent three different aspects of the same lovers and the same relationship ... The third couple look back wistfully as they leave. Of course, one must also admit that the smiling ambiguity that made such a misunderstanding of the subject possible in the first place has a large share in the charm of the picture ...

The trill and cadence at the very beginning are already ambiguous. They are based on the whole-tone scale that was used in the uncanny moments in Pelléas and Mélisande was used. They return twice, lastly on the last page, where they are sucked into the passionate waltz. The extraordinary power of the work is consistently shown in dotted rhythms, swirling triplets, trumpet calls and a final gesture in Liszt’s style, which takes up the entire breadth of the keyboard. No trace of sadness.

The six in the two volumes by Debussys Images The compositions contained therein are, as their name suggests, the work of the art lover Debussy (one might almost say the "seer"). Perhaps they ultimately go back to his early reading by Baudelaire, who declared that “the whole visible universe is nothing more than a storehouse of images and signs” “to which the imagination will assign a relative place and value; it is a kind of pasture that the imagination has to digest and transform ”. The poet also expressed this idea in his famous poem "Correspondances" from the collection Les fleurs du malwhich was initially banned by the censors in 1857 and therefore became compulsory reading for the artistic youth of the following decades: "Answers to tones and colors and fragrances."

Debussy had ideas for the six as early as December 1901 Images in his head when he played early versions of “Reflets dans l’eau” and “Mouvement” for the pianist Ricardo Viñes, but the complete track list was not finalized until July 1903 when Debussy sent it to Fromont Verlag. He just had that Estampes completed, and the Images, the first issue of which was published in October 1905, can be understood as a continuation of the same color-emphasized style that was used earlier in various pieces by Chabrier and Ravel Jeux d’eau had been hinted at. This practice is known as the technique of illusion — what you see on the printed page is often nowhere near what you hear, depending on how you use the right pedal. Like other “colorful” composers such as Berlioz or Liszt, Debussy was also keen that outwardly descriptive music should also follow purely structural standards.

The small undulations of “Reflets dans l’eau” and the key of D flat major could indicate that the work is a kind of by-product of La mer acts, although the above chronology at best suggests the opposite. Debussy jokingly claimed that this composition was composed “after the latest discoveries in harmonic chemistry”. Although he is exaggerating a little, the way in which the dreamy opening, a conventional eight-bar phrase, is immediately interrupted by chromatic chords is quite unsettling: throughout the piece, the reflections of the surface of the water are thrown over and over again, as if through pebbles by an unseen hand, disturbed. The basic circularity of the work echoes in the final “Mouvement”, which is actually almost an early one Etude is (like “Pour les triolets”?). Through the instruction that it should be played “with fantastic but precise ease”, the piece achieves an extraordinary combination of academic musical notes and an imaginative atmosphere - with a few fanfares as a bonus. The central “Hommage à Rameau” is outwardly calm and monumental, but it also makes use of more traditional rhetorical structures and the effortless inner dynamics that are so characteristic of the genius of Rameau. And that "without that pretending of German depth or the need to underline everything with your fist", as Debussy himself did in 1903 in a review of a performance of the first two acts of Rameaus Castor and Pollux formulated — possibly the inspiration for his own piece, although the search for direct quotations from the earlier composer has so far proven fruitless.

Loud hammering becomes the in the second volume Images, which was published in October 1907, even further in its place. In “Cloches à travers les feuilles”, the dynamic, apart from two forte chords in the middle of the piece, is in the piano or below. Within this narrow framework, Debussy plays with the idea of ​​the sound of bells, which is perceived through leaves, or at least through a flickering and surging substance. Although the title of this piece, as mentioned at the beginning, was already fixed in 1903, in view of its competition with Ravel it is at least conceivable that Debussy took note, if only only, of the younger composer's “La vallée des cloches” from early 1906 with his composition to write something that should sound as different as possible. The pianist is challenged with the balancing of the melodic lines: Here, too, you could almost think of one Etude speak - this time “Pour les lignes superposées”? The second part of the triptych, “Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut”, is a continuation of “Pagodes” from the Estampes; not so much through the use of oriental sounds such as gamelan (although these are definitely present), but rather through a feeling of oriental calm and pause. The first chord, as part of a cadenza from the sixteenth century, came about through contrapuntal writing, belongs to the Western tradition: Debussy gives it a completely different basic feeling by treating it not as a cadenza chord in a contrapuntal context, but as pure sound. Like the destroyed temple itself, it survived, but in a new world with a new function. Finally, in “Poissons d’or” the composer follows the imaginary jumping and twitching of two large carp, as depicted on a black lacquer Japanese black lacquer blackboard in his study. Here we actually experience Debussy enjoying the “last discoveries of harmonic chemistry” and can observe how he creates the static “fountain motif” Pelléas equips with aquatic acrobatics.

The year 1906 was unproductive for Debussy except for one piece, which he contributed to a Méthode Moderne de piano wrote; the editor went by the beautiful name Octavie Carrier-Belleuse. The album was not due to appear until 1910, but Debussy structured his contribution as the “Serenade for the doll” of his suite Children's Corner one that was finished in July 1908 and appeared a few months later. He and his second wife Emma had a daughter in 1905, whom he nicknamed Chouchou; he dedicated the suite to her "with tender apologies from her father for what follows". He confessed that the joy of the birth of his daughter "overwhelmed and terrified" him at first, and subsequently proved to be a very loving and attentive father. In any case, his relationship with Chouchou was more stable than that with Emma.

In “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” we witness how a child first practices diligently, then falls into daydreams and finally finds the narrow path up the mountain of the Muses. Debussy was constantly on the lookout for routine and letting his imagination be impaired; here he seems to be taking revenge by working the other way around: he starts with a dry over-routine and then transforms it into a fantasy. He told his publisher that the piece should be played early in the morning, no doubt as a warm-up exercise. "Jimbo's lullaby" lulls the toy elephant to sleep with the tried and tested pendulum rhythm and the great seconds borrowed from Mussorgsky, while "Serenade for the doll" proves Debussy's talent for light music - a friend once said that Debussy would have been rid of all his financial worries if only he once wrote an operetta; but Debussy was more serious. “The snow is dancing” is based on the “silent dance of the dew drops” from Massenet's opera Cinderella from 1899 on, and its consistent sixteenth-note movement anticipates in monotony those studies which were to become so popular in Paris in the 1920s; just think about it Pacific 231 or the Bolero. And where "The little shepherd" touches deeper emotions - freedom, inadequacy, loneliness - and as the little brother of the Faun from the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune can be heard, "Golliwogg’s cake-walk" is unadulterated fun, in the middle part even at the expense of Tristan and Isolde. Darius Milhaud later said that as a serious young man he was shocked by the break-in of the "vulgar" into the "serious" repertoire. And even Debussy walked restlessly up and down the corridor during the premiere by Harold Bauer in December 1908, worried that the Wagnerians present would be offended. Fortunately, however, they laughed in the right places.

The potential operetta composer Debussy also sounds in the waltz La plus que lente by, apparently composed in 1910 for M. Leoni, the conductor of the small orchestra at the Carlton in Paris. Although it is obviously a piece of the light muse (when a “M. Mouton” got the idea to orchestrate it with trombones and timpani, Debussy brought up his own version with a Hungarian cymbal), it does contain some refined and magical harmonic elements Twists that already refer to the Études from 1915. As he himself said about one of these masterpieces: "You don't catch flies with vinegar!"

Roger Nichols © 2018
German: Friedrich Sprondel