Works by Claude Debussy performed by the composer to mark his 160th birthday
Claude Debussy is the eminent French composer and an excellent exponent of the Impressionistic genre in music. In our new musical compilation – the preludes from the cycle that Debussy created by the end of his career, thereby, in fact, he completed the development of this genre in the Western European music, the most significant examples of which were the preludes by Bach and Chopin. With this composition, Debussy summed up his entire work and expressed everything that was most characteristic in the sphere of musical language, content, poetic images and individual style. The power of a prelude to embody separate, successive impressions, the absence of obligatory schemes in the composition, the improvisatory freedom of expression - all this was close to aesthetic conception and artistic methods of the composer-impressionist.
The whole cycle consists of twenty-four preludes, each one with its own flagship title, indicated only at the end of the piece (by this the composer emphasized the unwillingness to "impose" his conception on the performer and listener), which practically was never associated with the literature source. All preludes have perfectly finished and harmonic form.
The cycle opens with “The Danseuses de Delphes” prelude. The exalted beauty of marble sculptures of the antique bas-relief evoked bright musical and poetic associations in the composer’s mind. The sculptural group of three dancers on the fragment of the Greek temple, the copy of which Debussy saw in the exposition at Louvre, inspired him. This musical piece impresses with its exceptional plasticity of slow, smooth movements.
At the same time, Debussy followed his own intonation paths, on the one hand, vivifying the techniques of medieval organum, and on the other one, brilliantly using the techniques of impressionistic tone painting.
Among the preludes by Debussy, which have a literary or pictorial source, “La Cathedrale engloutie” stands out. This prelude was created by the composer under the impression of a Breton legend about the ancient city of Ys, once swallowed by the sea and, according to the stories of anglers, sometimes rising from the waves at dawn with the sounds of distantly ringing bells. Interpreting this plot, Debussy was far from romantically condensed and religiously mystical shades that could impart overtones to this dramatic legend. Its epic and figurative aspect attracted the composer. The epic beginning is embodied in the prelude not only by the calm, leisurely nature of its development, and by applying stylistic features characteristic of medieval music as well.
The genre subject of the prelude and musical impressive means are conformed to the aim of the most subtle reproduction in music of the seascape, the gradually dissipating fog and the approaching dawn, the bell-ringing coming from the sea depths, and, finally, the emerging town. In just five pages, Debussy managed to create the entire poem, written with singular mastership.
“La Danse de Pack” is a prelude dedicated to the impressions from “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by W. Shakespeare. Many subtle coloristic effects are reflected in it.
The musical selection includes another work by the composer - the play "The Island of Joy", written by Debussy in 1904. This is a joyful and bright period in the composer's life, the time, when he was happily married to the French singer Emma Bardac. Another source of inspiration for writing this prelude was the painting "The Embarkation for Cythera" by the French painter of the 18th century Jean-Antoine Watteau. Never again, Debussy was able to express the unrestrained impulse to happiness in his piano compositions with such force.