Harmony and dark chaos from Debussy’s pen

Debussy cello sonata
Art has no age. © Charles Thibo

Children made this piece of art. It immediately caught my attention. Cones painted in dazzling colours. The contrast between natural and artificial. Here’s a piece of music that has such contrasts too. And it retained my attention for a much longer time span than those cones, even if they get an honorary mention on this blog: Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Minor (L. 135), written by Claude Debussy and recorded by Sol Gabetta and Hélène Grimaud. Brace yourself, for you are in for a wild ride through the realm of chords and harmonies.

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A trio born in Prague, influenced by Paris

Rays of light in the darkness. © Charles Thibo

The first movement sounds at first like a cry of despair, a confused, agitated mind looking for help, for orientation, for the light at the end of the tunnel. A slow transition to a kind of monologue, a mind wandering into unknown territories, the pizzicato* introduces a phase of consolidation and of consolation. The second movement has the texture of a prayer, a lullaby, a long, drawn-out sigh expressing a certain resignation, a certain peace of mind, albeit on the background of an overall depressed and confused mood. Occasionally gentle, optimistic figured for the violin are pitched against the darkness, but they cannot prevail. The last movement however has a hopeful, playful general mood and finishes on a strident, agitated repetition of the central theme giving the third movement a bitter aftertaste.

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No to harmony, yes to melody

Safe haven. © Charles Thibo

A prayer or rather an incantation. Maurice Ravel on a Japan inspired rave? At the turn of the last century many French artists became infatuated with Japan’s traditional art – its painting, its music, its haiku literature. Between 1920 and 1922 Ravel wrote his Sonata for Violin and Cello, M. 73; he dedicated it to Claude Debussy, and I detect at least a hint of the Asian concept of minimalism and purity in this piece. Ravel wrote it in his safe haven “Le Belvédère”, located in Montfort l’Amaury, 50 km south-west of Paris, inspired every day by his Japanese garden.

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Looking at the world with a child’s eyes

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A new day. © Charles Thibo

Gabriel Fauré’s String Quartet in E minor (Op. 121) will forever be associated in my mind with the morning after I had heard Debussy’s quartet. Debussy’s piece had had a deep and lasting impact upon me the day before. I rose in the morning to drive to work, and while I drove by that field in the picture I immersed myself in the first movement of Fauré’s piece. The field, the sun, the sky, the music…

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