Debussy’s early piano works
Welcome to Classical Break. I’m Rupert Kirkham. We opened today’s programme with Danse Bohemienne, by Claude Debussy, played by Monique Haas. Born 102 years ago, Monique Haas started her career at the Paris Conservatoire in the 1920’s. She was one of the world’s finest exponents of French 20th century piano music, especially that of Debussy, whose early compositions for piano we are to hear her play today. Debussy had attended the Paris Conservatoire too, in 1872, at the age of ten, and he spent eleven years there.
Monique Haas died in 1987 and today’s music comes from a CD which has been hailed as one of the best recordings of Debussy’s piano music ever.
Next, 2 Arabesques composed between the years 1888 and 1891, when Debussy was still in his twenties. (28)
TRACK 2 & 3:
Historically, Debussy is known for being something of a rebel in composition. In the second part of his career, after 1900, he challenged the previous generation’s concepts of tonality and structure and became an enormous influence on those classical composers who followed. The piano works in today’s programme come from his early period, before he became famous and really started to rattle his cage! Here are 3 more compositions, all written in 1890, when he was 28.
Reverie, Tarantelle Styrienne and Valse Romantique.
TRACK 4, 5, 6:
Reverie, Tarantelle Styrienne, Valse Romantique
The next two pieces, played by Monique Haas, Nocturne and Mazurka, come from the same period as the music we just heard – around 1890.
The Nocturne has hints of Liszt in the opening, and of Massenet and perhaps even Fauré, in its thematic lushness.
The Mazurka shows the strong influence of Chopin, Debussy's piano teacher was a student of Chopin, and it could be that the Mazurka was intended as an homage.
TRACK 7, 8:
The Suite Bergamasque is one of the most famous piano suites by Claude Debussy. Although Debussy commenced the suite in 1890 – he certainly did a lot of work in 1890 - but he didn’t finish or publish it until 1905 by which time it had been significantly revised.
It seems that by the time a publisher came to Debussy in order to cash in on his fame and have these pieces published, Debussy loathed the earlier piano style in which these pieces were written. While it is not known how much of the Suite was written in 1890 and how much was written in 1905, we do know that Debussy changed the names of at least two of the pieces.
In this recording, the pieces are, Prelude, Menuet, Claire de Lune and Passepied.
TRACK 9, 10, 11 & 12:
Prelude, Menuet, Claire de Lune and Passepied.
Our final piece today is taken from Debussy’s 1901 composition, Pour le Piano. It’s the final movement of three, Toccata. The piece is poised and energetic, extroverted and graceful, demanding unflappable technique and poise on the part of the pianist.
It has been said that this piece gives us the message that Debussy has mastered the piano's unique language on his own terms. It certainly points to his later work and was first performed as the composer finally became a real celebrity in the world of classical composition.
We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s programme of Debussy’s early piano music, played by the French pianist, Monique Haas. Until next time, I’m Rupert Kirkham and this has been Classical Break, Goodbye.
Pour le Piano – Toccata