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Claude Debussy

Sunday, June 26, 2016


My Classical Notes

June 16

Healing with Satie

My Classical NotesWe are in the middle of such turbulent times. And for me, music is the great healer. Yes, there is a role for Mozart, Haydn, and Schubert. And there are also times when the music of Erik Satie is able to work its wonders. Here is an example: Satie: Piano Music (complete) Performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano) The 17th of May 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of Erik Satie’s birth, undoubtedly one of the most eccentric and colorful figures in the early 20th century music. Erik Satie’s influence is felt in Debussy’s Impressionism, Stravinsky’s Modernism and the Minimalism of Philip Glass that followed. This 6CD set presents Satie’s Complete Piano music. The solo works are performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet with a CD of four-handed piano music performed by Pascal Rogé and Jean-Philippe Collard.

Guardian

June 16

Debussy/Takemitsu: works for strings: CD review – nimbleness and rapt eloquence

Scottish Ensemble (Linn)The immediate thing I noticed about this recording, and which I kept noticing all the way through, is how broad, expansive, lush and generally huge the Scottish Ensemble sounds. Most of the time it performs with two cellos and a double bass (though it bulked up a bit for this album) and has always made a thing of playing standing up for a chamber-music kind of nimbleness. But the SE house style is also all about muscular attack, and that comes through in director Jonathan Morton’s charged and opulent arrangement of Debussy’s String Quartet. I miss the fragility and elusive shimmer of the original, whereas Colin Matthews’s arrangement of Debussy’s piano prelude The Girl with the Flaxen Hair is wonderfully hazy, subtle and indirect. Three short Takemitsu works complete the album, including his gushing 1980s Tarkovsky tribute Nostalghia – the word means a specifically Russian sort of homesickness – with Morton as rapt and eloquent soloist. Continue reading...




Classical iconoclast

June 14

Time travel Aldeburgh : François-Xavier Roth Rameau Ravel

François-Xavier Roth brought Aldeburgh "through the centuries" when  Les Siècles played Rameau and Ravel on Saturday, the first in a series by this most fascinating of ensembles. Roth and Les Siècles are innovative, dispensing with the whole idea of boxing music into stereotypes of period and genre.  For them, music is a life force so vital that it transcends boundaries.  Period performance isn't just about instruments or even style. It's a whole new way of thinking, which respects the music itself, as opposed to received tradition.  In his own time, Jean-Philippe Rameau was avant garde, so shockingly different that he was lucky to have patrons in high places.  Rameau changed music.  Thus Roth and Les Siècles paired Rameau and Ravel, innovators across the centuries, both working on themes from classical antiquity.  Time travel on every level ! Significantly, both Rameau and Ravel were writing for dance.  Dancing is a physical activity, which requires co-operation. Dancers co-ordinate with music, and with each other. Rameau's music takes its very structure from the discipline of dance, with its intricate formal patterns and abstract expressiveness. In 1722,  Rameau wrote the Traité de l'harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels, building firm theoretical foundations for musical creativity.  The baroque aesthetic "contained the world" to borrow a phrase from Mahler, encompassing worlds beyond time and place. Rameau's Daphnis et Eglé (1753) illustrates the composer's basic ideas.  It was created for Louis XV at Fontainebleau, as entertainment after days spent in the forests hunting animals for sport.  This context matters.  The dancers, singers and musicians act out a fantasy which has little bearing on real life. Yet it's so beautiful that it takes on a logic of its own.  Think about baroque gardens, where the abundance of nature is channeled into formal parterres, though woodlands flourish beyond, and birds fly freely.This tension between nature and artifice livens the spirit: gods mix with mortals, improbable plots seem perfectly plausible.  We enjoy the music as abstract art.  The whole  Daphnis et Eglé unfolds over 16 separate tableaux each of which illustrates a type of dance, the whole piece thus forming an intricate unity of patterns and sub-patterns.   I've seen the piece choreographed which reveals the way the music reflects physical form: a wonderful experience !   At Aldeburgh, Roth and  Les Siècles don't have the resources of Les Arts Florissants to hand, and also dispensed with the sections for voice, but this hardly mattered.   By focusing on the purely musical aspects of the piece, they brought out its innate energy, its liveliness deriving from its origins in dance. This performance was even more muscular than when Christie and Les Arts Flo did it in 2014,  bringing out the forceful, physical quality in the music to great effect.   Baroque dancing, particularly before Louis XIV, was more athletics than ballet as we know it now.  Like fencing, it was physical fitness for aristocrats, training the mind as well as the body.  In this superb performance,  Roth and Les Siècles proved, if any further  proof were needed, that period performance is not for wimps ! This performance of Daphnis et Chloé was even more revealing.  So often the piece is heard as dreamy colorwash, for it is so beautiful,  but its foundations are much firmer. Ravel was writing for the Ballets Russe, for larger and more opulent orchestras than Rameau.   Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé is a descendant of Debussy La Mer, an impressionistic fantasy, yet it is very much a work created for dance.  Ravel gave more room to characterize the narrative, but the spirit of the work is deliberately alien. Thus Ravel's wind instruments and strings evoke otherworldly atmospheres. The solo parts are exquisite, suggesting pan pipes and delphic voices.  . There's even a suggestion of a wind machine (though it's done by more conventional means).  The offstage horns, trumpets and voices evoke mystery, suggesting states beyond mortal comprehension (that's why the singing is wordless).  Yet the aesthetic of Ravel's period embraced modernity, the stylization of art nouveau, where plants, flowers and people were depicted in twirling, twining contrast, influenced heavily by art from beyond central and western Europe. As in the baroque, nature cannot really be tamed even in an era when people lived in cities lit by electricity and rode in tramcars.  Fokine's angular choreography horrified audiences used to mid-19th century ballet, where ballerinas fluttered in tulle.  Bakst's designs for this ballet were decidedly "modern" in comparison, evoking the formality of ancient Greek art.  This superb performance seemed informed by insight into the context of the piece.  Roth and Les Siècles  brought out the innate energy in the piece, reminding us of the angular, "primitive" style of the Ballets Russe, inspired by prehistory and ancient myth.  A vivid performance, bristling with verve and physicality.  Listen again here on BBC Radio 3.



Guardian

June 8

Debussy: The Edgar Allan Poe operas CD review – an unfinished double bill heard at last

Dazeley/Villanueva/Hartinger/Fan/Dries/Göttinger SO/Mueller (Pan Classics, two CDs)Debussy did not complete any operas after the first performance of Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902. In the wake of that premiere, though, he made plans for no less than three more, and in 1908, after the successful US debut of Pelléas at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, he promised all three of them to that company. One was to be a version of the Tristan and Isolde legend, using a French source of the story, while the other two were intended to be a contrasting double bill, based on tales by Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Devil in the Belfry.No musical traces of the Tristan project seem to remain. But the Poe double bill got much farther, and Debussy repeatedly returned to it almost up to the end of his life in 1918. While extensive musical sketches for Usher survive, amounting to roughly half of the projected score, all that survives of The Devil in the Belfry is an outline scenario and a few pages of thematic ideas. Three musicologists have subsequently made performing scores from the Usher material, of which Robert Orledge’s totally convincing version has become the most widely heard. Orledge’s score was used for the WNO staging two years ago, and for this 2013 concert recording from Göttingen. Here, for the first time, the double bill was performed as Debussy intended, with The House of Usher alongside The Devil in Belfry, which has also been completed and orchestrated by Orledge. Continue reading...

Claude Debussy
(1862 – 1918)

Claude Debussy (August 22, 1862 - March 25, 1918) was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions. Debussy is among the most important of all French composers, and a central figure in European music of the turn of the 20th century. He was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1903. His music is noted for its sensory component and for not often forming around one key or pitch. Often Debussy's work reflected the activities or turbulence in his own life. His music virtually defines the transition from late-Romantic music to 20th century modernist music. In French literary circles, the style of this period was known as symbolism, a movement that directly inspired Debussy both as a composer and as an active cultural participant.



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