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Debussy

Exploring the life and work of one of music’s most alluring and mysterious figures.

 
Program 1

The fascination behind an elusive artist transcends into his enchanting music.  Claude Debussy, who once said he learned more from poets and painters than from music conservatory, is considered the figurehead of Impressionist music (though he would vehemently argue against it).  Influenced by Bach's arabesques and the romantic Chopin, the Frenchman made his mark in music with his otherworldly compositions, beginning with "Danse Bohemienne."

Bill dives into Debussy's peculiar upbringing, studies in the Paris conservatory and his Prix de Rome win.  

Debussy: La fille aux cheveux de lin fr. Preludes, Bk. 1
Zimerman, p.
DG 435773-2
2:12
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Debussy: Fêtes fr. Nocturnes for Orchestra (excerpt)
LA Phil/Salonen
Sony 58952
2:34
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Chabrier: Mauresque fr. Pieces Pittoresque
Planes, p.
HM 901465
1:48
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Debussy: Danse Bohemienne
Jones, p.
Nimb 5160
2:01
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Debussy: “Beau Soir”
Fleming, s.; Thibaudet, p.
Lon 467697
2:46
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Debussy: “En Sourdine”
De Los Angeles, s.; Soriano, p.
EMI 65061
2:59
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Debussy: “Salut Printemps”
Orch de Paris/Barenboim
DG 2531 263
2:58
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Debussy: En Bateau fr. Petite Suite
Robert & Gaby Casadesus, p.
Sony 52527
3:08, 1:02
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Debussy, orch. Büsser: Ballet fr. Petite Suite
ORTF/Martinon
EMI 72673
3:04
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Debussy: La damoiselle élue
BSO/Ozawa; Graham, ms.; McNair, s.
Phil 446 683-2
18:16
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Debussy: Arabesque No. 1: Andantino con moto
Stolzman, cl.; Allen, harp
RCA 60198
4:23
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Program 2

Debussy avoided classical forms--sonatas, symphonies, string quartets--until meeting Eugene Ysaye, a violinist from Brussels.  He wrote only one string quartet and one opera, both masterpieces.  

This section contains two of Debussy's best-known works: the piece known by every pianist, "Clair de Lune" and his first orchestral composition, "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun."  The latter is an ethereal illustration of a poem written by his friend, Stéphane Mallarmé.  

 

 

 

Debussy: Claire de Lune fr. Suite Bergamasque
Thibaudet, p.
Decca 460 247-2
4:43
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Debussy: Trois Mélodies de Verlaine
Maltman, bar.; Martineau, p.
Hyp 67357
7:15
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Debussy: Quartet for Strings in G minor, Op. 10
Emerson String Quartet
DG 445509
24:49
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Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Cleveland Orch/Boulez
DG 435766
8:50
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Debussy: “Mandoline” (excerpt)
Fleming, s.; Thibaudet, p.
Lon 467697
1:04
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Program 3

Rounding out Debussy's soap-opera life was his tumultuous love life.  Most notably is the decade-long affair with Gabrielle Dupont, followed by a a short-lived marriage to Lilly Texier, to whom Debussy threatened suicide if she did not agree.  His one and only opera, however, was inspired not by a lover, but by a fictional character in a play, Mélisande.  The opera, Pelléas Et Mélisande, catapulted Debussy to international stardom, elevating his status and income.  

We move onto a nocturne and one of Bill's favorites, "Danse sacrée et danse profane," which was written to showcase a newly invented instrument, the chromatic harp. 

 

Debussy: Prelude & Sarabande fr. Pour le Piano
Gulda, p.
Phil 456817
3:56, 1:40
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Debussy: Pelléas Et Mélisande (excerpts)
La Scala/Abbado; Von Stade, ms.; Ollmann, bar.; Bröcheler, bs.
Opera D’Oro 1195
9:59, 5:03
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Debussy: Nuages & Fêtes fr. Nocturnes
LA Phil/Salonen
Sony 59852
13:40
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Debussy: Danse sacrée et danse profane
Cleveland/Boulez; Wellbaum, hp.
DG B0002121-02
10:15
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Program 4

After his marriage to Lilly dissipated, he fell in love with Emma Bardac, and wrote "1903, marriage to Lilly dissipated, he was in love with Emma Bardac, inspiring the piece, "L’Isle Joyeuse."

There were two things that inspired further works: his loved ones and the sea.  "I was actually brought up to be a sailor," Debussy said.  He truly infused his passion for the sea into "La Mer."  Two weeks after its premiere, Emma gave birth to his daughter, nicknamed Chouchou.  Enamored, he wrote charming music for her, including pieces collectively titled "Children's Corner."

Debussy: Estampe, II & III
Ciccolini, p.
EMI 754447-2
9:24
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Debussy: L’Isle Joyeuse (excerpt)
Horowitz, p.
CBS 44681
1:00
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Debussy: L’Isle Joyeuse (excerpt)
Philharmonia Orch/Simon
Cala 1002
5:04
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Debussy: La Mer
BSO/Munch
RCA 6719
22:52
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Debussy: Children’s Corner (excerpts)
Watts, p.
Phil 456 985-2
6:20, 3:08
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Program 5

The last segment follows Debussy into his last works before succumbing to cancer.  "Iberia" speaks to his imagination, because though he spent only a few hours in Spain, he was able to paint a picture so vivid, even Spanish composers were thoroughly impressed.    We hear "The Perfumes of Night" and "The Morning of Festival Day."  

World War I naturally had its impact on art, and Debussy composed a Christmas carol for the homeless children  in 1915.  As his last great project, he hoped to compose six sonatas for various instruments.  He was able to complete three, the last being a violin sonata.  He performed it behind the piano at its 1917 premiere, his last performance. 

Debussy: Preludes- Book II, No. 3- La Puerta del Vino
Gulda, p.
Phi 456 817
2:02
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Debussy: Iberia, II & III
BSO/Munch
RCA 61956
12:25
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Debussy: Jeux
Concertgebouw/Haitink
Phil 400 023-2
18:46
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Debussy: Noël des enfants que n’ont plus de maison
Ameling, s.; Baldwin, p.
EMI 64095
2:30
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Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano
Perlman, v.; Ashkenazy, p.
Lon 444318
11:54
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Debussy: Passepied fr. Suite Bergamasque
Gulda, p.
Phil 456817
3:21
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