Capturing Instant Impressions in Melodies

A magic moment of fall... © Charles Thibo
A magic moment of fall… © Charles Thibo

Gold. Outside my window I see gold. The leaves in the wineyards, the setting sun, the trees in my garden – everything is bathing in a warm, golden light. Beautiful. Poetic. Aesthetic masterpieces created by Mother Nature. And then there are masterpieces created by Man. Like the “Suite Bergamasque” written by Claude Debussy. This piece mirrors the beauty outside my window.

We have met Debussy already in one of my first posts. He painted the sea and the light with music. The “Suite Bargamasque”, a piece for piano, was inspired by a poem of the French writer Paul Verlaine: Clair de lune (Moonlight), part of the cycle “Fêtes Galantes”. It was written during the spring of 1890, but published only in 1905. It has four movements, of which the third “Clair de lune” has become one of the most popular piano pieces of all. In 1891 Debussy would set to music four more of Verlaine’s poems from “Fêtes Galantes”.

Playing with Tchaikovsky’s patron

Debussy, born in 1962, was the son of a French navy officer and his father wanted him to follow his footsteps. They lived in Paris, but moved to the Mediterranean Sea when the French-Prussian war of 1870/71 broke out. It was in Cannes that Debussy took his first piano lessons. He entered the Conservatoire de Paris and started composing 1879, setting to music texts written by Afred de Musset. In 1880 he started teaching the children of Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky’s patron, and occasionally joined her on the piano. The “Suite Bergamasque” is one of Debussy’s earliest piano works.

Single notes and pauses

20 years later he would publish a collection of piano pieces of equal rank and beauty: the “Préludes”. But these pieces differ radically from the suite. While the composing style of the suite was still in the tradition of romantic melodies, the “Préludes” do not follow necessarily a logic of melodies and musical themes. Their style comes much closer to what could be labelled “impressionist” music, though I am cautious with such labels. Debussy actually succeeds in rendering real-time impressions, feelings, ideas… by depicting them with single notes and sometimes with pauses.

The French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard has made a wonderful recording of the first book of “Préludes” with the label Deutsche Grammophon while I would recommend the recording of the “Suite Bergamasque” by the Russian pianist Vassily Primakov.

Interesting link: The Debussy Documentation Center

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.

4 thoughts on “Capturing Instant Impressions in Melodies”

  1. What an informative, inspiring, and even poetic blog! Found you via Maria Holm. I also appreciate that you link music and with other artforms – including the link to the poetry of Paul Verlaine on Reading Revolution, which led me to enjoy Oistrakh & Bauer playing one of my favourite pieces, Claire de Lune, and so on…
    🙂 Thank-you.

    1. Thank you for kind words, which make me very happy. I do this as a passtime, though I do it with a lot of passion. 😊 I started this blog upon the remark of a longtime friend from Sweden, who marvelled about my passion for classical music while she thought she could not get an access to this type of music. By now she reads every post and plays the music to her little son. Mission accomplished!

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