Recorded on 02/21/2006, uploaded on 01/21/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Claude Debussy composed his Suite bergamasque for solo piano in 1890, making it an early piece in his career and preceded by only a handful of other works for piano. Yet, it was not published until fifteen years later in 1905, when publishers were eager to get their hands on a portion of Debussy’s growing success and fame. The suite, as published, however, shows a greater artistic maturity and technique than Debussy likely possessed during his formative years, indicating that he likely revised the work (though to what extent is difficult to tell) in 1905 before its publication. Regardless of what revisions Debussy made to the suite, he did alter the titles of two of its four pieces. The last piece, Passapied, was originally entitled Pavane, while the third piece, Claire de lune, at first bore the title Promenade sentimentale. The change of title for this latter piece has led many to speculate on the connection between it and the poem of the same name by Paul Verlaine, particularly since Debussy had already set that particular poem to music twice by 1891.
Claire de lune is quite possibly Debussy’s most famous and recognizable composition, being one of the rare pieces in classical music to find its way numerous times into pop culture. Meaning “moonlight,” it is a piece of stunning, ethereal beauty. Yet, it is also a particularly demanding piece for performers, requiring a sensitivity to prevent the plentiful left-hand arpeggios from becoming static, as well as knowing proper restraint so as not to shatter the delicate and subtle colors of Debussy’s writing. Ternary in design, the piece opens with a shimmering melody, marked con sordina, in the moonlit key of D-flat major, which grows in brilliance as it proceeds through its second statement. An octave passage in rubato tempo leads into the central episode. Marked to be played a little faster, a new melody of even greater sublimity emerges atop resonant arpeggios. The episode itself bears a sort of ternary design itself as the music shifts to the key of E major in a somewhat more animated section before returning again to the tonic key. An altered reprise of the opening melody is given, accompanied by the arpeggios heard in the episode, before a brief coda closes this remarkably beautiful work. Joseph DuBose
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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