H is for Hommage a S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. – Debussy

2012: Claude Debussy’s 150th birthday, Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday, and the pomp and patriotism of a Royal Diamond Jubilee. Debussy really scored a hat-trick with his piano Prélude Hommage a S Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C., which has associations with all three. Even better, Dickens travelled to Ipswich in 1835 to report on the General Election, and stayed at the Great White Horse, immortalizing the tavern and his experiences there in ‘The Pickwick Papers’. And I live in Ipswich. Voilà!

‘… In the main street of Ipswich, on the left-hand side of the way, a short distance after you have passed through the open space fronting the Town Hall, stands an inn known far and wide by the appellation of the Great White Horse, rendered the more conspicuous by a stone statue of some rampacious animal with flowing mane and tail, distantly resembling an insane cart-horse, which is elevated above the principal door. The Great White Horse is famous in the neighbourhood, in the same degree as a prize ox, or a county-paper-chronicled turnip, or unwieldy pig-for its enormous size. Never was such labyrinths of uncarpeted passages, such clusters of mouldy, ill-lighted rooms, such huge numbers of small dens for eating or sleeping in, beneath any one roof, as are collected together between the four walls of the Great White Horse at Ipswich.


It was at the door of this overgrown tavern that the London coach stopped, at the same hour every evening; and it was from this same London coach that Mr. Pickwick, Sam Weller, and Mr. Peter Magnus dismounted, on the particular evening to which this chapter of our history bears reference… ‘
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 22.

‘God Save our Gracious King/Queen’ is intoned in the genial and good-natured key of F major at the beginning of the piece, marked  Grave, with appropriate solemnity. At  Aimable the mood lightens, then the fun begins at Peu à peu animé where skittish dotted rhythms and crisp LH staccato notes lead to a smooth melody, still enlivened by a dotted rhythm in an inner part.  Retenu for some extremely grand and important chords, then the music hesitates, peers around, and takes off in a new direction, Animez peu à peu, culminating in some rather desperate chromatic thirds in the RH and a panic-filled, rhythmically distorted reminder of the National Anthem…

Back to earth for a bar or two, then off again – diddley-dum-de-dum-de-dum  CRASH… The music trips over itself, gets its breath back, and regains its composure at a restrained tempo, ending with a triumphant flourish. So concludes this musical portrait of the capricious Mr Pickwick.

Here is Zimerman –

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4 Responses to H is for Hommage a S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. – Debussy

  1. Emeritus Profesor Harold Townson says:

    You should go to the Wikipedia entry and correct/enlarge on its reference to Hommage a S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.C.

  2. I came to this site by chance googling – but when I arrived here, I wondered whether you are a fan of The Pickwick Papers? If so, you might be interested in taking a look at my forthcoming novel Death and Mr Pickwick, which will be published by Jonathan Cape of the Random House Group in May. The novel tells the story behind the creation of The Pickwick Papers, and you can find out more at: http://www.deathandmrpickwick.com Also, I have a scene in Ipswich! (And actually, I see that you were born in Melbourne – and I have scenes set in that city too.) There is some musical content in the novel as well, because the nineteenth-century music critic Edward Holmes is a character. Best wishes Stephen Jarvis

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