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Claude Debussy

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

May 3

Vanessa washes up in Britain

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discSixty years after its premiere at the Met, Glyndebourne is planning the UK premiere of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, a work of unabashed romanticism and limited uptake. Here’s the full Glyndebourne 2018 season: PUCCINI Madama Butterfly Annilese Miskimmon’s Tour 2016 production makes its Festival debut, conducted by Omer Meir Wellber. STRAUSS Der Rosenkavalier A revival of the Festival 2014 production from Richard Jones, conducted by Robin Ticciati. HANDEL Giulio Cesare A revival of David McVicar’s 2005 production, conducted by William Christie. DEBUSSY Pelléas et Mélisande A new production from Stefan Herheim, conducted by Robin Ticciati. HANDEL Saul A return for Barrie Kosky’s 2015 production, conducted by Laurence Cummings. BARBER Vanessa A UK premiere directed by Keith Warner, conducted by Jakub Hrůša. And here’s how what it sounds like:

Royal Opera House

May 22

How do you complete an opera when its composer has died before finishing it?

Marco Berti as Calaf in Turandot © ROH/Tristram Kenton, 2013 Operas left unfinished by their composers present a fascinating conundrum. Can anyone else bring them to a satisfactory conclusion? For David Murphy , the completer of Ravi Shankar ’s unfinished opera Sukanya , the answer is ‘yes’ – Shankar had completed his opera in outline, so, as his long-term collaborator, Murphy primarily needed to ‘fill in the gaps’. But it’s rarely so straightforward… Both Schoenberg ’s Moses und Aron and Debussy ’s Rodrigue et Chimène have proved unfinishable. Schoenberg created a three-act libretto for Moses und Aron, but only wrote music for Acts I and II. His sketches for Act III are too slight to convey any sense of his intentions, so the Act III text is usually left unperformed. Debussy’s messy sketches for Acts I to III of Rodrigue et Chimène have been reconstructed, orchestrated and performed, but nothing can be done about Act IV, for which text and music are lost. The only solution in such cases is for new music to be added – as Robert Orledge did for Debussy’s La Chute de la maison Usher , composing from scratch more than half the score. Critics praised Orledge for capturing Debussy’s idiom – but others have been less fortunate. Philipp Jarnach ’s conclusion to his teacher Busoni ’s Doktor Faust was criticized for its brevity, and has periodically been replaced by Antony Beaumont ’s more expansive one. When Rimsky-Korsakov completed his friend Musorgsky ’s Khovanshchina , his fellow musicians criticized him for over-lush orchestration and for softening Musorgsky’s distinctive harmonic style. Shostakovich ’s bleaker 1959 completion, based on Musorgsky’s vocal score, has now become the standard version. Fortunately, Rimsky-Korsakov and his pupil Glazunov had greater success completing and orchestrating Borodin ’s epic Prince Igor – perhaps because they found his idiom easier to imitate. Turandot must have been a particularly terrifying project, as Puccini had invested so much in the Act III finale left unfinished at his death – he intended it to have the intensity of Tristan und Isolde ’s love duet. No wonder Franco Alfano found finishing Turandot a struggle! His version is more than competent, but lacks Puccini’s striking harmonic language. By contrast, Luciano Berio ’s longer alternative ending experiments with daring modernist harmonies and colourful scoring, and has a pensive rather than festive conclusion. Time will tell if audiences come to prefer one version over another. Operas left closer to completion can also cause headaches. Offenbach had finished most of Les Contes d’Hoffmann (bar sections of the ‘Giulietta’ act) at his death four months before the premiere. But he left no definite performing instructions, so Hoffmann has been performed in various versions, particularly since missing manuscript sources have been re-discovered. Friedrich Cerha had a relatively easy task to complete Berg ’s Lulu – Berg had finished Acts I and II, and most of Act III in short score – but Berg’s widow remained adamant that it was unfinishable, even claiming her dead husband had told her so from beyond the grave. The completed three-act Lulu was only performed in 1979, after her death. And although it was much praised, the fact that two recent productions (Welsh National Opera’s in 2013; Hamburg State Opera’s in 2017) use new versions of Act III suggests that Cerha’s expert completion has still not been universally accepted. Even a completed score doesn’t mean the end of the story. Bizet ’s Carmen exists in several versions, as Bizet died too soon after the premiere to make a clear performing edition. And Janáček ’s pupils Břetislav Bakala and Osvald Chlubna filled out the stark, chamber-like orchestration of From the House of the Dead and even tacked on an up-beat choral finale, as they believed these would have been Janáček’s intentions had he survived to rehearse the opera’s premiere. In this case, however, musicians found they preferred Janáček’s original, which was definitively restored through Charles Mackerras and John Tyrrell ’s 1980 edition and recording. In the contentious history of incomplete – and allegedly incomplete – operas, this is a rare example where a composer’s intentions can (almost) definitely be said to have been honoured. Turandot runs 5–16 July 2017. Tickets are still available.




Classical iconoclast

May 10

The Sea - F-X Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, Debussy Ravel Britten Chin and Trenet

On the ocean !  and François-Xavier Roth reveals more of his many talents. Livestream with the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, conducted by François-Xavier Roth, combining Britten, Unsuk Chin, Ravel and Debussy La Mer and, with a glorious twist, the original 1946 Charles Trenet La Mer sung by Roth himself!  From Roth, always expect the unexpected.  Not many conductors would have the sass to do this, far less to sing it themselves, but Roth can, and did it with such style that the song fitted perfectly well with the rest of the programme. Genre-blending with intelligence - no dumbing down here. Benjamin Britten Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes set the scene.  The Gürzenich-Orchester Köln doesn't sound like an English orchestra, so it was a good experience hearing Britten in this way - sparkier, less buttoned down and stiff upper lip.  The timpani crashed, the church bells clanged, and the undercurrent in the tide motif pulled with a surge. Wild, dizzying angular lines: wonderfully quirky.  Englishman as Peter Grimes is, he is Everyman, his story universal.  This was "different" but perfectly valid, releasing the repressed "inner" Britten. This grows on you - enjoy the repeat broadcast. Unsuk Chin's Le Silence des Sirènes premiered in 2015 at Lucerne with Simon Rattle and Barbara Hannigan.  This time the soloist was Donatienne Michel-Dansac, who made the piece an expression of zany humour, very much in the whimsical spirit of Chin's music. This also fits the edginess in James Joyce's text.  Michel-Dansac's voice calls, from a distance, before she emerges on stage.  This Siren seduces by the sheer variety of what she sings. She mutters, whispers, sighs, compelling attention.  Long, high-pitched ululations taunt the dissonant lines in the orchestra. When the Siren triumphs, her victim is dead.  Thus the hollow, sardonic laugh. Another surprise - Ravel Une barque sur l'océan in its orchestral version, paired seamlessly with Debussy La Mer, which, incidentally was completed by Debussy when he was on holiday in Eastbourne in Sussex. Britten's North Sea coastlines can be bleak, but Eastbourne is closer to the expansive Atlantic and to France.  Not that it really makes a difference, since the sea of Debussy's imagination is an emotional, artistic response to the symbolism of the ocean - ever changing moods, depths, contrasts, driven by vast, invisible forces.  Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln were in their element: a very strong performance, and very rewarding. Pity about the presentation, though, which apes the hyper-hip vacuousness that plagues BBC Radio 3 these days.  The presenter herself seems a rational person, who could probably develop a more rational style, more in keeping with the quality of this orchestra.    



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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