Rêverie (“daydream”) is music of the young Claude Debussy. Written in 1890, this atmospheric piece for solo piano anticipates the composer’s later works. At the same time, I hear a fleeting echo (perhaps coincidental) of Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Swan. As with Saint-Saëns, who downplayed his 1886 Carnival of the Animals suite as frivolity, Debussy later turned his back on Rêverie, writing to the publisher Fromont,
I regret very much your decision to publish Rêverie. I wrote it in a hurry years ago, purely for material considerations. It is a work of no consequence and I frankly consider it to be no good!
It’s hard to agree with Debussy after listening to the performance below by Zoltán Kocsis. Opening with a rising and falling line evocative of gently lapping water, Rêverie is filled with soft, pastel colors and conversing voices. Throughout Debussy’s music, a single chord can achieve the ultimate expressive power. For example, listen to the sudden hint of menace at 0:51. These ominous clouds dissipate as quickly as they came. Another example comes with a transcendent harmonic shift just before the icy coda.
- Debussy: Rêverie, L. 68, Zoltán Kocsis Amazon
Featured Image: “Rouen Cathedral,” West Façade, Sunlight (1892), Claude Monet