Classical Music | Cello Music

Claude Debussy

Sonata for Cello and Piano  Play

Oliver Herbert Cello
Renana Gutman Piano

Recorded on 07/13/2016, uploaded on 02/09/2017

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.

First to be composed was the Cello Sonata in D minor, completed in 1815. Possessing a severe brevity (most performances last only eleven minutes), it is nonetheless filled to the brim with material. The sonata is structured in three movements, though the last two are played without break, but it is not to the familiar Classical sonata structure the Debussy turned for inspiration. Instead, Debussy adopted a plan inspired by the music of an even earlier period, namely that of François Couperin. Mixed with this Baroque influence, however, is Debussy’s modern compositional language of modes, whole-tone and pentatonic scales, and advanced techniques required of the soloist.

The opening Prologue begins with a declamatory statement of the movement’s principal theme in the piano answered, in turn, by a flourish from the cello. Much of the cello’s part is highly ornamental with the piano mostly resigned to harmonic support. This changes, however, in the movement’s central episode as the serene and lyrical music gives way to an animated ostinato in the cello and the piano takes on a somewhat more melodically important role. The peaceful music of the opening returns to round out the movement’s ternary design and closes with quiet harmonics from the cello. The ensuing Sérénade is an unusual movement with a majority of the solo part played pizzicato. Save for a few arco passages in the opening section, only the middle episode features any prominent use of the bow. A truncated reprise of the opening gives way to a bowed passage that serves as a transition to the sonata’s finale. An energetic movement, the finale is not without its moments of tender beauty and much of it is indeed lyrical.       Joseph DuBose


Cello Sonata, ClaudeDebussy

In 1915, Debussy embarked on a project to compose six sonatas, each for a different combination of instruments. Only three were actually written, as his health was rapidly declining. The first of these was the Cello Sonata. The second was for flute, viola and harp; the third (his last composition) for violin and piano.  On the title page of the original published edition appear the words “Claude Debussy, Musicien français,” no doubt a pointed indication that his sonatas were not going to be cast in the mold of the German masters, but would follow a different path not characterized by standard sonata form.

Except for the first three measures, the cello plays nearly continuously throughout the Prologue. Debussy took care to advise that “the piano must not fight the cello, but accompany it.” The principal theme is heard as a lyrical, descending line in the cello. This theme returns at the end of the Prologue after a middle section in which the piano momentarily assumes the principal role. Although the sonata is nominally in D minor, the flavor is strongly modal, perhaps in keeping with Debussy’s presumed intent that the sonata evoke the character of old Italian commedia dell’arte.

The two main movements are played without pause. The Sérénade throws out bizarre whorls of sound much in the manner of a moonstruck, crazed harlequin careening about the stage. Sarcasm, banter, and an air of the fantastique are created through the use of special effects for the cello including pizzicato and glissando.  The Finale, like the previous movements, leaves the cellist scarcely a moment’s rest, but the piano writing is far denser than in the Sérénade. Cello and piano engage in exuberant dialogue and reckless antics, pausing only for a moment of quiet reflection before resuming their drive to the finish.       Notes by Andreas Brantelid and Shai Wosner