Fauré and Debussy: Two Charming Settings of Paul Verlaine’s “Mandoline”

Gabriel Fauré’s 1891 song cycle, Cinq mélodies “de Venise”, Op. 58, begins with music which is as charming and infectious as it is brief. Mandoline is a setting of a poem from the 1869 collection, Fêtes galantes, by the French Symbolist, Paul Verlaine. The poem was inspired by a series of paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau depicting (as Robert Gartside writes) “18th century nobility in their fêtes champètres, those elegant picnics redolent of a mixture of gaiety, …

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Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”: Desires and Dreams

The flute’s gentle siren call emerges, solitary and alluring. It wanders freely from C-sharp down to G-natural and back again, drifting hazily into our consciousness, and beckoning us forward with quiet, seductive power. This is how we enter the sensuous dreamscape of Claude Debussy’s colorful and fleeting 1894 tone poem, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun). Debussy’s inspiration arose from a poem by the French symbolist, Stéphane Mallarmé. …

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Debussy and the “Tristan Chord”

On Monday, we heard the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, a work which opened the door to the dissolution of tonality and the atonal sound world of the twentieth century. One composer who was profoundly influenced by this music was the young Claude Debussy. In 1887, Debussy called Tristan und Isolde “the most beautiful thing I know, from the point of view of the profundity of the emotion.” Yet, in a …

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New Release: Víkingur Ólafsson’s “Debussy-Rameau”

Jean-Philippe Rameau and Claude Debussy meet as virtual contemporaries on Debussy-Rameau, a new album by the Icelandic pianist, Víkingur Ólafsson. Surprising common threads emerge as we listen to the music of Rameau (1683-1764), one of the most important French baroque composers and theorists, alongside the rule-shattering impressionism of Debussy (1862-1918). Ólafsson believed the juxtaposition would “create a dialogue that might show Rameau in a futuristic light, and find Debussy’s deep roots in the …

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Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: Five Legendary Recordings

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995). Michelangeli has been called “one of the most enigmatic performers of the twentieth century.” A noted perfectionist, his concert repertoire was considered to be small, and he agreed to the release of relatively few recordings during his lifetime. He practiced eight to ten hours a day, telling students, “One has to work to feel your arms and back …

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Debussy’s Cello Sonata: A Celebration of Classical Form

In 1914, at the encouragement of his music publisher Jacques Durand, Claude Debussy set out to compose a cycle of Six Sonatas for Various Instruments. In a letter to the conductor Bernard Molinari, Debussy explained that, in terms of instrumentation, the collection would feature “different combinations, with the last sonata combining the previously used instruments.” The project was undertaken at a time when Europe was ravaged by the First World War and Debussy suffered from …

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Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp: The Land of Laughter and Tears

In 1914, with the encouragement of his music publisher Jacques Durand, Claude Debussy set out to compose a cycle of Six Sonatas for Various Instruments. In a letter to the conductor Bernard Molinari, Debussy explained that, in terms of instrumentation, the collection would feature “different combinations, with the last sonata combining the previously used instruments.” The project was undertaken at a time when Europe was ravaged by the First World War and Debussy suffered from …

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