The French Connection – revisited. Favourite piano pieces by Debussy…

debussy_marneIn 2012 I wrote a series of posts covering an A-Z of Debussy’s music on this blog, and, since he is one of this year’s featured composers in the current series – The Lunch That Never Happened – it seems a good time to revisit some of those posts.

There are many  archived under:
‘The French Connection – An a-Z of Debussy’s Music ‘ – everything from Arabesque to Zephyr, with some curiosities and rarities thrown in,  such as Khamma and the Fall of the House of Usher.

But here are links to just four, with some trailers from the posts themselves …

Clair de Lune 
17,217,253. That is the number of views which YouTube’s top-ranking video of Debussy’s Clair de Lune had when I started research for this post a few days ago. The views now number 17,259,512 – over 42,000 more. Successive generations of pianists have fallen under the piece’s spell since its publication in 1905. My grandmother and my mother learnt it. I learnt it. Now my pupils clamour to learn it, influenced by Twilight…
 Continue reading …

La Fille aux cheveux de lin -The Girl with the Flaxen Hair

Sur la luzerne en fleur assise, Madame Vasnier
Qui chante dès le frais matin ?
C’est la fille aux cheveux de lin,
La belle aux lèvres de cerise.

So begins the poem La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin  by Leconte de Lisle from which the title of Debussy’s famous piano Prélude is taken. The poem is one of four Chansons Ecossaises from the Poèmes antiques by de Lisle.

‘Scottish Songs’ – and indeed, La fille aux Cheveux de Lin was originally set as a song by a young Debussy in about 1882, and dedicated to Madame Vasnier whose portrait is above. She was not a ‘girl with the flaxen hair’, but a married, thirty-something redhead who was a fine singer, an inspiration and a muse to the young Debussy – and much, much more besides. He wrote a number of ecstatic love songs dedicated to her – I could go on, but I urge you to listen to this wonderful programme, Songs for Madame Vasnier, to hear the original La Fille aux cheveux de lin at about 02:36, and an account of  the Debussy/Vasnier relationship as well as the songs it inspired …. Continue reading… 

Dr Gradus ad Parnassum from the Children’s Corner Suite

Debussy's daughter -Claude-Emma

As a child, did you practise your scales and exercises on the piano with due care and attention?

Yes? Congratulations, well done.

No? You didn’t? You fiddled about, or let your fingers take you to distant tonal fields away from C major? Hmm … well, you are not alone. Debussy’s Dr Gradus ad Parnassum owes its name to that esteemed tome by Clementi : Gradus ad Parnassum, which is packed with useful studies for different technical demands. Debussy’s piece, although an excellent workout for the fingers, gives the impression of an executant who has good intentions, but who becomes bored with the status quo of C major; there are tangential by-roads to be explored, and new pianistic antics to try out. And why should the RH and LH be confined to treble or bass clef respectively… Continue reading…

[Above, Debussy’s daughter, Claude-Emma, nicknamed Chouchou, to whom the suite is dedicated.]

Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest –  What the West Wind has Seen

 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…. Continue reading …

[Below, Debussy with Stravinsky, photographed by Satie!]

Debussy and Stravinsky, photographed by Satie


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