Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest, to give the correct title to Debussy’s seventh prelude, is – terrifying. It is terrifying to play, and terrifying to witness. The score is even fairly terrifying to look at; it is covered with demi-semiquavers, bristling with accidentals and littered with leger lines, needing careful deciphering to work out just what is to be played when, and where.
Before going any further, have a listen to a live performance by Richter –
The piece begins in the low register, pp, Animé et tumultueux, with a repeated, swirling figure, grounded on F#, a distant roar -and then it takes off in a furious gust, subsiding to a threatening bass tremolo while a new idea based on clusters of seconds, in a jagged, dotted rhythm is heard, plaintif et lointain.
Commencer un peu au-dessous du mouvt, tension builds over a low, anchored F# pedal point/ostinato with chromatically ascending triplets above continually pulling against it, a musical figure repeatedly straining to be let off the leash. Revenir progressivement au mouvt Animé, the texture thickens, the dynamics grow, the speed increases, accents and tenuto marks proliferate, sometimes simultaneously, until, strident, a blast of alternating, furious C/D semiquavers hammers out then softens.
Un peu retenu, p mais en dehors et angoissé, that figure forms the inner part around which a new figure featuring the interval of a falling octave is wrapped. En serrant et augmentant beaucoup, we are suddenly propelled into the full fury of the wind, with the clustered-seconds theme now howling in the bass, très en dehors and ff, beneath a shrieking RH accompaniment.
Often in these Debussy blogposts, mention has been made of the extraordinary range of quiet dynamics which he demands. But in this piece, weight and strength are also needed, as well as the ability to change quickly from one extreme to the other.
The music reverts to a pp, bass F# tremolo; Furieux et rapide a gust of wind comes and goes, before the final build-up to a shattering end.
Below is a lithograph by artist Ceri Richards – ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest.’