New Release: Seong-Jin Cho Plays Debussy

On Wednesday, we heard the vague, dreamlike associations of light and water in Claude Debussy’s three orchestral Nocturnes. As a followup, here are three excerpts from a recently-released Debussy album by Korean pianist, and 2015 International Chopin Competition-winner, Seong-Jin Cho. The album includes three suites for solo piano: the Suite bergamasque, Children’s Corner, and Images, as well as the solo piano work, L’isle joyeuse. Debussy’s six Images were written between 1901 and 1905. The first, Reflets dans l’eau (“Reflections in the Water), …

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Debussy’s “Nocturnes”: Impressions of Color and Light

Despite their descriptive, imaginal titles, Claude Debussy’s three orchestral Nocturnes transcend the concrete and the literal. Instead, they inhabit a colorful, atmospheric dreamscape in which senses blend together in the ultimate synesthesia. Debussy’s resplendent sonic world almost allows us to “feel” colors and “hear” light. This is music which floats in a sumptuous present, without concern for forward motion towards a distant, future goal. It’s also music which moves in a radically different direction …

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The Ghost of Debussy’s “Des pas sur la neige” in Morton Feldman’s Final Work

Four ascending notes, repeated with hypnotic persistence amid a soundscape of restlessly shifting harmony and color…This is what we hear in the atmospheric Des pas sur la neige (“Footprints in the Snow”), the sixth piece from Book 1 of Claude Debussy’s solo piano Préludes. Written in 1909, this music seems to mirror the dreamy winter scenes of Impressionist painters like Claude Monet- paintings in which recognizable landscapes begin to blur into abstractions of color and light. …

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New Release: The San Francisco Symphony’s Debussy Album

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have just released an exciting new Debussy album. The disk features two orchestral showpieces: the three movement Images pour orchestre (the interior movement, Ibéria, evokes the bright, sunny rhythms of Spain) and the ballet score, Jeux. The sensuous, gypsy-inspired waltz La plus sue lente rounds out the album. The performances were recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall. Jeux (Games), described as a “poème dansé” (“a danced poem”), was Debussy’s last orchestral work. It was written quickly in …

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Five Musical Fireworks

It’s ironic that Independence Day in America isn’t complete without Tchaikovsky’s most famous ode to Russian nationalism: the bombastic 1812 Overture, which was written to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon’s invading army. As we head into the July Fourth holiday weekend, here are five more pieces that bring fireworks to mind: Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks In 1749, England’s King George II employed Handel to write music for a large, outdoor public celebration in …

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Ivan Moravec Plays Chopin

  The legendary Czech pianist Ivan Moravec passed away on Monday at the age of 84. He was widely regarded as one of the finest interpreters of the music of Chopin. Mozart and Debussy were also high points of his repertoire. Born in Prague, and initially limited by the constraints of the Iron Curtain, Moravec first became known in the West through his recordings. Listening to Moravec’s extensive discography, it’s easy to …

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The Fauré Requiem, A Lullaby of Death

Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D minor, Op. 48, the choral-orchestral setting of the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead, offers a uniquely serene and tranquil view of death. Influenced by chant, it floats on a peaceful and sometimes modal sea, The traditional Sequence section, the hellfire of the Day of Wrath, is omitted, while the Pie Jesu and In paradisum are added. Written between 1887 and 1890, the Requiem was not motivated by personal tragedy or sombre thoughts of mortality. Fauré …

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