Z is for Zephyr – Debussy’s Zephyr

Claude+Debussy+_

Dear Reader,

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.

Debussy a Pourville

Debussy a Pourville

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
J’irais mourir sur votre bouche.
Ces voiles, j’en aurais la clef,
Si j’étais le Zéphyr ailé.

Près des seins, pour qui je brulais,
Je me glisserais dans la couche.
Si j’étais le Zéphyr ailé
J’irais mourir sur votre bouche.

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,Debussy's daughter, Chou-Chou smile with pleasure.

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

6 Responses to Z is for Zephyr – Debussy’s Zephyr

  1. A young friend of mine, who is a student at Trinity-Laban, has been studying this Prelude for over a year now, and plays it with great conviction and understanding. We had a very funny incident with it at one of Penelope’s courses last year, when she asked Stephen to imagine the wind whipping up leaves and other debris and tossing them around. Stephen was asked to silently imagine this scenario before he played, but instead he started giggling uncontrollably – and admitted he was thinking about the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz! Despite this, his performance was incredibly atmospheric.

  2. Thank you, Christine, for a really fascinating journey through Debussy’s music. Very much looking forward to your next project for 2013!

  3. Pingback: The next steps taken | Life on the Farmlet

  4. Pingback: Open you the East Door and let the New Year in | notesfromapianist

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