Recorded on 02/14/2008, uploaded on 10/16/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
In his later years, Claude Debussy planned a series of six chamber sonatas under the title Six sonates pour divers instruments. Only three of the planned works, however, materialized—the two solo sonatas for violin and cello, and the chamber sonata for flute, viola and harp. Each is a testament to Debussy’s skill in the realm of chamber music, but also examples of the composer’s gradual progression toward absolute music and abandonment of the overtly visual and textual elements that had dominated nearly all of his earlier music.
Second in Debussy’s planned series of chamber works is the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. It was composed in 1915, and while employing a slightly unusual ensemble is actually the least adventurous of the three sonatas that Debussy managed to complete before his untimely death in 1918. Like its companions, it is structured in three movements, and though also the longest of three, also shares their brevity and economical manner. Originally, Debussy scored the sonata for flute, oboe and harp, but upon composing the finale found replacing the oboe with the viola a necessary alteration to achieve his desired effect.
The opening movement, marked “Pastorale: Lento, dolce rubato”, begins mysteriously with each of the instruments introducing a melodic subject and eventually arriving at the sonata’s tonic key of F major. Debussy treats the motives of this movement by a process of free variation. In the course of this variation process, the mood of the music frequently changes and leaves the listener, much as it left the composer, wondering whether to laugh or cry. The following “Interlude,” indicated to be played in the tempo of the minuet, is less an explicit dance movement and more a subtle implication of its joyous movements, perhaps reflecting more the psychological state of the dancer aided by the rhythms of the dance. The Allegro moderato ma risoluto finale is a particularly dramatic movement, energetic and marked with vigorous rhythmic and melodic gestures. Joseph DuBose
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