Recorded on 10/31/2006, uploaded on 01/17/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Claude Debussy composed his two books of preludes during a remarkably brief period—the first, between December 1909 and February 1910; and the second, during roughly the same period in 1912-13. Though totaling twenty-four in number between the two books, Debussy’s preludes do not follow the precedent established by J. S. Bach’s ubiquitously known Well-Tempered Clavier (namely, a prelude in each of the major and minor keys) and imitated by several other composers, including Frédéric Chopin, Charles-Valentin Alkan, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. However, this does not mean that Debussy’s preludes are without order, and the relationships that can be found among them indicate that their published order was, to a certain extent, quite purposeful, yet also designed with a degree of inherent flexibility. Debussy, in keeping with the artistic philosophy of his day, also composed each prelude with specific scene or image in mind. Yet, to partially disguise these intents from the listener and to allow his audience to discover them of their own accord, Debussy craftily placed his titles at the end of each prelude. Performance practice of the preludes varies. Early performances, even by Debussy himself, established a precedent of grouping the prelude in threes or fours, allowing performers to pick those in which they perhaps are most comfortable. However, some performers also choose to perform each book in their entirety.
Ondine, the eighth prelude of Book II, is based on the mythical character of a water nymph dating back to Middle Ages. Infatuated with the world of mortals, Ondine marries the knight Huldebrand, but her magical powers prove fatal for the man who dares betray her love. Debussy’s musical depiction of Ondine came from Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s novella Undine, which along with Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, also provided the inspiration for both Tchaikovsky’s opera Undina and Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka. Maurice Ravel also crafted his own depiction of Undine in the second movement of his piano work Gaspard de la Nuit, and it is possible that Debussy wrote this prelude in response to Ravel’s setting. Marked Scherzando, Debussy captures within the prelude the aquatic setting by his ingenious use of color and figuration. One can easily imagine ripples in the water from the playful antics of Undine. Throughout the middle portion, the music turns darker, giving a brief glimpse of the sinister nature of the water nymph, yet not so much as to break the ethereal scene. As the prelude approaches its conclusion, the music once again becomes clear and playful, abandoning the darker hues heard earlier to close quietly on a D major chord. Joseph DuBose
Debussy, a French composer of the 20th century, was one of its most remarkable personalities and a genius in creating his own world of music. The Préludes exemplify his mastery in coloring combined with harmonic and dynamic changes. Suggested as afterthoughts, the titles are placed at the end of each prelude in parentheses, as an added clue to interpretation. Debussy frequently applied his perception of ‘Spanish’ music to many of his compositions, as in No. 3 (... La Puerta del Vino). The Spanish-ness in Debussy’s works is often a rendition of Spanish guitar strums and rhythmic elements, at times also reflecting a sensual quality. Junghwa Lee
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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