DEBUSSY: Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune / Nocturnes

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Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)

Prelude ?á l'apres-midi d'un faune

(Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun)


La mer

The French composer Claude Debussy was to exercise a powerfulinfluence over his successors, not least through his harmonic experiment and his delicatehandling of timbres. This second quality is particularly apparent in his use of relativelylarge orchestral forces to create effects often of the greatest delicacy, comparable tohis poetic treatment of the piano.

Debussy was born in 1862, the son of a shop-keeper, who waslater to turn his hand to other activities, with varying success. He started piano lessonsat the age of seven and continued, two years later, improbable as it may sound, withVerlaine's mother-in-law, who claimed to have been a pupil of Chopin. In 1872 he enteredthe Conservatoire, where he abandoned the plan of becoming a virtuoso pianist, turning hisprincipal attention to composition. In 1880, at the age of eighteen, he was employed byTchaikovsky's unseen patroness Nadezhda von Meck as a tutor to her children and ahouse-musician. On his return to the Conservatoire he entered the class of Bizet's friendErnest Guiraud. In 1884 he won the Prix de Rome and the following year reluctantly took upobligatory residence, according to the terms of the prize, at the Villa Medici in Rome,where he met Liszt. By 1887 he was back in Paris, winning his first significant success in1900 with his Nocturnes and going on, two years later, to a succes de scandale with hisopera Pelleas et Melisande, based on theplay by Maurice Maeterlinck.

Debussy's personal life brought some unhappiness in his firstmarriage, in 1899, to a mannequin, Lily Texier, and his association, from 1903, with EmmaBardac, the wife of a banker and an amateur singer, whom he eventually married in 1908.

Debussy's final years were darkened by the war and by cancer, the cause of his death inMarch, 1918. His death interrupted a series of chamber works, only three of which hecompleted.

The famous Prelude ?á l’apres-midid'un faune was completed in 1894. It was later to achieve unwarranted notorietyin the overtly erotic mime of the dancer Nizhinsky, when the score was used by Dyagilevfor a ballet in 1912. Debussy was unhappy with this treatment of his work. The inspirationfor w hat was essentially revolutionary music came from a poem by Mallarme, with itssubtly sensuous suggestions of a pagan world. In the form of an Eclogue, the poem is inthe words of a Faun, half-goat, half-man, in the mould of the pagan god Pan. He is stirredby the sight of passing nymphs, as he lies resting from the heat of mid-day in a woodedglade. The music opens with the sound of the Faun's reed-pipe, represented by the flute,in a score that makes imaginative use of woodwind, two harps and strings, with percussionconfined to delicate antique cymbals, used with sparing yet telling effect.

Debussy originally planned his Nocturnes as a series of piecesfor the famous Belgian violinist Eugene Ysa??e, a work that he completed in 1896, derivinginspiration from the poet Henri de Regnier, under its first title Trois scenes au crepuscule (Three Scenes atTwilight), conceived in the years 1892 and 1893. The final orchestral version of the workwas completed in 1900.

The first of the three sections of the work, Nuages (Clouds),provides a poetically evocative opening, a reflection of the movement of the clouds acrossthe sky. It is followed by Fetes (Festivals), a re-creation of holiday festivities in theBois de Boulogne. The third Nocturne, Sirenes (Sirens), returns to the gentler mood of thefirst. A traditional riddle had puzzled over what song the Sirens sang to lure ancientGreek sailors to their doom. Debussy provides his own answer, a picture of the sea inmajesty, beauty and variety, foreshadowing La mer. The song of the Sirens is representedby a wordless female chorus.

The three evocative symphonic sketches that form La mer were completed in 1905 after two years' work.

The period of his life was a difficult one, as he resolved, in 1904, to abandon his wifeand elope with Emma Bardac, a woman of a much more cultured background. His marriage in1899 had already led his former mistress to attempt suicide and in 1905 his deserted wife,for whom his former friends had much sympathy, followed the same course, with equal lackof success. The social consequences for Debussy were serious, and he took refuge with EmmaBardac in an Eastbourne hotel. Shortly after the first performance of La mer in 1905, Emma Bardac gave birth to a daughter,Claude-Emma, to be known in the family as Chou-Chou.

There is no sign in La mer

of the domestic stress under which Debussy was labouring during the period of itscomposition. He makes delicate use of a large orchestra in structures of some complexity,the three sketches corresponding in some measure to the traditional forms of sonata, rondoand free fantasia. Although analogies with French Impressionism were drawn bycontemporaries, others have seen rather a reflection of the composer's admiration for theEnglish painter Turner, while the influence of Japanese woodcuts was demonstrated in thechoice of Hokusai's Wave, from the Views of Fujiyama, at the front of the printed score.

The first sketch takes us from dawn to noon on the sea, in a rich and varied musicaltexture, a mosaic of orchestral sound. This is followed by the sport of the waves, ascherzo-like movement, and the final conversation of wind and sea, leading to a climax ofhedonistic ecstasy.

BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels

The history of the BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels goesback to the birth of the Belgian Radio in the 1930's. After the well-known musicologistand promoter of contemporary music, Paul Collaer, had become head of the Music Departmentof the Belgian Radio, the orchestra, under its conductor Franz Andre gained a world-widereputation for its interpretations of the latest compositions of Stravinsky, Berg,Bartok, Hindemith and other 20th century composers. For example, the orchestra gave thefirst European performance of Bartok's Concerto forOrchestra in Paris and the first West European performance of the Four1hSymphony by Shostakovich. The orchestra at that time worked with many of today's leadingconductors from Pierre Boulez, Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud to Lorin Maazel and ZubinMehta.

In 1978 the Radio Symphony Orchestra was dissolved and both theFlemish and the French Radio divisions set up their own symphony orchestras. The Flemishnetwork soon had a new orchestra, the BRT Philharmonic, comprising some 90 musicians andFernand Terby became its principal conductor from 1978 to 1988. Since 1988, AlexanderRahbari has been the principal conductor and musical director of the new BRT PhilharmonicOrchestra.

Alexander Rahbari

Alexander Rahbari was born in Iran in 1948 and was trained as aconductor at the Vienna Music Academy as a pupil of von Einem, Swarowsky and Osterreicher.

On his return to Iran he was appointed director of the Teheran Conservatory of Music andtook a leading position in the cultural development of his country .In 1977 he moved toEurope, winning first prize in the Besan?ºon International Conductors' Competition and theGeneva silver medal. In 1979 he was invited by Herber1 von Karajan to conduct the BerlinPhilharmonic Orchestra and served as von Karajan's assistant in Salzburg. Rahbari'ssubsequent career has been highly successful, with concer1s throughout the
Disc: 1
La Mer
1 Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune
2 Nuages
3 Fetes
4 Sirenes
5 De l'aube a midi sur la mer
6 Jeux de vagues
7 Dialogue du vent et de la mer
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