Recorded on 05/01/2001, uploaded on 02/10/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Claude Debussy’s trio of piano pieces entitled Images, Book 1 was published in 1905, the same year as his Suite bergmasque. The composer’s choice of title, however, is somewhat curious as it can be argued that the title could equally be well-applied to any of Debussy’s compositions. Indeed, it seems almost as generic in nature as the titles of “Intermezzo” or “Capriccio” were for German composers such as Johannes Brahms. Nevertheless, each of the three pieces of Images has their own descriptive title: Reflets dan l’eau, Hommage à Rameau, and Mouvement. And though these titles may give some direction as to the images Debussy may have had in mind while composing, they also leave ample room for the listener’s own imagination to take over.
In the first piece, Debussy magnificently captures the image of its title: reflections in the water. We know not what these reflections may be, but through Debussy’s ingenious use of color and harmony we do know that we are not looking at them directly, but rather indirectly by virtue of perhaps a chance reflection in a pool of water. Sweeping arpeggios abound throughout the piece, creating the impression of little ripples or waves that distort the reflected image. While Reflets is a dramatic piece, it closes quietly, almost with a touch of solemnity, as resonant chords replace the prior arpeggios and the principal three-note motif sounds like a reminder of the scene that has just passed by.
While composing the first book of Images, Debussy was revising Les Fêtes de Polymnie by Jean-Philippe Rameau, one of France’s greatest keyboardist and influential music theorists. Thus the second piece, as the title indicates, pays homage to the Baroques composer’s music, fashioned in the appropriate form of the sarabande. Throughout, the music is serious and solemn. The theme is announced in bare octaves to open the piece, yet Debussy’s impressionism comes to the fore as it is developed with more complex harmonies.
The last piece, Mouvement, is a toccata-like movement. It is built upon a moto perpetuo of triplets, creating a near endless and unstoppable torrent of notes throughout almost every measure of the finale. Only in the middle section is the stream of triplet partially broken, yet hardly detained in pushing onward. Despite the boundless energy of this movement, it ends, like its companions, quietly as if it has not stopped, but only moved out of our range of hearing. Joseph DuBose
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