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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Debussy’s Violin Sonata: An Autumnal Farewell

The Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor was Claude Debussy’s last completed composition. It was written in 1917 at a time when the composer suffered from terminal cancer. Europe was plunged into the bleakness and devastation of the First World War, bringing food and coal shortages and economic hardship to Paris. Exhausted and watching the prewar world he had known slip away, Debussy wrote to a friend, I only wrote this …

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Debussy’s String Quartet: “Pleasure is the Only Rule”

Some people wish above all to conform to the rules. I wish only to render what I can hear. There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. Works of art make rules but rules do not make works of art. Any sounds in any combination and in any succession are henceforth free to be used in a musical continuity. – Claude Debussy  A radical new kind of …

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Debussy’s “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair,” Krystian Zimerman

La fille aux cheveux de lin (“The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”) is the eighth piece in Book I of Claude Debussy’s solo piano Préludes, written around 1910. The title was inspired by an 1852 poem by Leconte de Lisle. A single, meandering line pulls us into the ephemeral, dreamlike world this music inhabits. Listen to the way the harmony, built largely on the floating, static pentatonic scale, shifts around this melody in unexpected ways. Listening …

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Debussy, Ravel, and the Battle of the Harps

In 1904, Pleyel, the Parisian instrument manufacturing company, commissioned Claude Debussy to write a piece showcasing what they hoped to be a revolutionary new kind of harp. The harpe chromatique, invented in 1894 by Pleyel’s director, Gustave Lyon, was a cross-string harp designed without need for foot pedals. The standard harp, with its 46 strings and range of six and a half octaves, cannot play all possible half step intervals without relying on seven pedals which can be …

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New Release: Ian Bostridge Joins the Seattle Symphony for Berlioz, Ravel, Debussy

Song cycles by three French composers- Berlioz, Ravel, and Debussy- come to life spectacularly on a newly-released album featuring the English tenor Ian Bostridge with Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony. The recording appears on Seattle Symphony Media, the orchestra’s innovative, Grammy-winning, in-house record label. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été was recorded at a live concert at Benaroya Hall in November 2017. Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Debussy’s Le livre de Baudelaire, orchestrated by John Adams in 1994, are studio recordings. Here are a few excerpts: …

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“La Mer”: Debussy’s Sonic Portrait of the Sea

Claude Debussy’s La Mer (“The Sea”) is not a literal portrait of the ocean. There is no “program” or story, as we might hear in Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony or a Strauss tone poem. Instead, La Mer takes us deep into the world of atmosphere, metaphor and synesthesia (a blurring of senses). Shimmering colors, the play of light on water, and a vivid sense of motion blend together to form a magical, ever-changing soundscape. As with the …

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