Many thanks for your company on my journey through this 2012 Debussy A-Z as it draws to a close; it’s been lovely to have your comments and tweets. If you are in private or have some headphones, push the ‘play’ button on the video below as you read, to hear a beautiful collection of Debussy’s songs, including Zéphyr at 9:08.
Zarathustra, Zauberflöte – musical works featuring Z do exist, and I wondered if Debussy would oblige me with an appropriate piece for the final letter of the alphabet. And he has – two, in fact – the other being Zuleima for choir and orchestra, composed in 1885-86.
But Zéphyr (click on the link for the score) is even earlier; it dates from 1881, being published only in 1932. The poem is by Théodore de Banville, appearing in his first book of verse, Les Cariatides, in 1842.
Si jétais le Zéphyr ailé
Près des seins, pour qui je brulais,
Musically, the setting is simple; the similar words at beginning and end have the same vocal melody but a different accompaniment, the colour intensified by a sharpened 4th in the harmony, introduced six bars before the final cadence. The middle section modulates, the voice rising to its highest note for the word clef. Beautifully crafted, the piano accompaniment is unified by a bell-like motive heard first in the introduction, then twice more.
For further reading on Debussy’s songs, Roger Nichols’ liner note here , written for another recording, gives an excellent introduction to the genre.
And so – au revoir to Debussy, whose music will always live on as long as there are musicians to play it. Happily, there are a number of schools in France which proudly bear the name: Ecole Claude Debussy. And at least one of them seems to be encouraging the next generation of French musicians, with videos of pianists, cellists and the school concert online. Perhaps that would make Debussy, who adored his daughter Chouchou, smile with pleasure.