R is for Reverie – Debussy’s Reverie

A forthcoming concert at the Wigmore Hall caught my eye recently; entitled Rêverie, it will present some of Debussy’s piano music in an evening which includes readings about his life and loves in the form of a journal – should be fascinating! The pianist is Lucy Parham, and the narrator Dominic West.

The title is well-chosen; it also refers to one of Debussy’s piano pieces dating from 1890. There are a number of one-off piano pieces by Debussy, early works, which are pleasant to play and to listen to, without being startling. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but if his reputation had depended on such pieces he would not have the stature he possesses as one of the twentieth century’s most original and innovative composers. However, the piece does require some skill to perform convincingly.

In three sections, basically a ternary form, the opening material is a lyrical melody over a gentle ostinato figure, needing a singing tone in the RH and evenness in the LH. Fairly innocuous harmonically, it does build to a climax of greater harmonic angst, after which the roles are reversed and the LH has the melody. The middle section contrasts in texture by introducing four-part chordal movement, and by modulating further afield in its tonality; the character is enlivened by a passage in the bright key of E major. The return of the opening material is interesting – the melody is shared between the hands, and the ostinato figure appears both above and below. Careful listening to keep the layers well-balanced and the melody well-shaped is needed. The dynamic level is fairly restrained throughout, apart from two bars marked forte.

Lost in one’s thoughts, musing, day-dreaming… yes, the piece does all that. However, by way of contrast, here is  another ‘rêve‘ – Fauré’s ‘Après un rêve‘ of 1877.

This entry was posted in Composers, Music, The French Connection - An A-Z of Debussy's music and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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