Recorded on 03/29/2005, uploaded on 01/08/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
In 1909, Gabriel Fauré, Director of the prestigious Paris Conservatoire, named Claude Debussy to its Board of Directors, marking a reconciliatory end to the composer’s quarrelsome relationship with the school dating back to his time there as a student. It was a triumph for Debussy as Paris’s still rather conservative musical establishment was now recognizing him as one of its leading composer. In this new position, his first duty was to provide two pieces for the following year’s clarinet examinations. From this assignment, Debussy produced a bagatelle for sight-reading, which was later orchestrated and published under the title Pétite Pièce, and the much lengthier and significant Premiere Rhapsodie (interestingly, a second rhapsody never emerged from the composer’s pen).
Composed during December 1909 and January 1910, Debussy dedicated the Rhapsodie to the clarinet professor Prosper Mimart, who gave the work its official premiere. Originally, it was scored for clarinet with piano accompaniment, but Debussy returned to the work to produce a version with orchestral accompaniment, which was published in 1911. This final version of the Rhapsodie was premiered in St. Petersburg, led by the composer himself, during a tour of Russia that same year. Regretfully, the work is not heard as often as one might expect, despite its possession of an ethereal beauty and, in terms of harmony, one of Debussy’s most easily accessible pieces. It passes from the serene in its opening measures, marked Rèveusement lent (“Dreamily slow”), to playful and even flamboyant in its animated scherzo-like middle section, and ends joyfully with exuberant statements from the soloist. Joseph DuBose
Claude Debussy was one of the greatest French composers and influenced many other composers in the twentieth century. As Claude Monet's paintings are identified by the term "impressionism", Debussy's musical style is also best defined by this same term. He wrote numerous pieces for solo instruments, chamber music, operas, and orchestra scores. He was at the pinnacle of his career in 1910 when he was appointed a member of the Conseil Supérieur du Conservatoire. He composed a test piece for clarinet and piano, later entitled Premiere Rhapsodie, for the conservatory's year-end examinations. Written in a style similar to his most celebrated work "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" (1894), the Premiere Rhapsodie is one of Debussy's dreamiest solo works. It calls for an astonishing range of technical abilities-constant decelerandos and accelerandos with numerous dynamic changes guiding soft and penetrating melodies. Seunghee Lee
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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