Préludes Livre 1

Composer: Claude Debussy (b. 1862 - d. 1918)
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Composer: Claude Debussy (b. 1862 - d. 1918)

Performance date: 02/07/2018

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1909 -10

Duration: 00:41:11

Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ

Instrumentation: pf

Instrumentation Category:Solo

Artists: Philippe Cassard - [piano]

Préludes Livre 1


Philippe Cassard [piano]

Claude Debussy [1862-1918]

Préludes Livre 1 [1909-10]

1. Danseuses de Delphes

2. Voiles   

3. Le vent dans la plaine

4. ‘Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir

5. Les collines d’Anacapri

6. Des pas sur la niege

7. Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest

8. La fille aux cheveux de lin

9. La sérénade interrompue

10. La Cathédrale engloutie

11. La danse de Puck

12. Minstrels

On hearing Debussy play Danseuses de Delphes, a friend wrote it was like hearing a poet reciting some of his own delicate lyrics. He had a soft, deep touch which evoked full, rich, many-shaded sonorities…I have never heard more beautiful pianoforte playing.

Debussy began his first book of Preludes in December 1909 and completed it early the following February. Each prelude, with the exception of the brutal West Wind and the Drowned Cathedral, was composed in a single day. 

The first Prelude, Danseuses de Delph, takes its name from a Greek classical column from Delphi on which three dancers are depicted then being exhibited in the Louvre. The three dancers with linked arms circle slowly – a miracle of harmonic concentration, soft dissonances and plain triads in perfectly poised sequence. This beautiful, grand and sensuous introduction closes on a B flat chord and B flat provides the key bass note in the second Prelude, Voiles, which could be Sails or Veils. The right hand provides a translucent shimmering which is undermined by the sinister bass.


The third Prelude’s title, Le vent dans la Pleine, is a literary allusion to an eighteenth-century playwright, Charles Simon Favart, one of three literary inspirations in this series. It too uses a low B flat as a vital part of the bass. The fourth Prelude (The sounds and perfumes turn in the evening air) is a line from Baudelaire. This Prelude is a masterpiece of refined voluptuous decadence. The insistent chromatic chords add to the dream-like atmosphere.  These first four Preludes can be regarded as a set – a kind of first movement. The fifth prelude is quite different.

It has been suggested that the title of the fifth Prelude Hills of Anacapri comes from an image on the label of a wine from Capri.  Here Debussy changes to major keys and brings a lightness and humour with bells, popular songs, a tarantella and even a habanera. Prelude Six Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps on the snow) is an intense piece concentrating on a slow repeated two-not figure. This rhythm, Debussy writes, must have the sonorous value of the depths of a sad, frozen landscape.This is followed by the tumultuous “What the West Wind Saw”. The title comes from a Hans Christian Andersen story The Garden of Eden, whose West Wind is a wild man brandishing a mahogany club and the music is either a pastiche or an homage to Liszt. Another complete contrast follows with La Fille aux cheveux de lin, a title taken from Leconte de Lisle. Here the musical influence is Schuman although the delicacy and variety of the harmonies are entirely Debussy. 


The Interrupted Serenade is a delicious tale of a would-be serenading guitarist faced by a slammed-shut window and competing music. It provides an interlude before the famous Submerged Cathedral named after a legend of the sunken Cathedral of the ancient Breton capital of Ys, whose bells can be heard on a calm day. The Cathedral will emerge only when Pairs is flooded. Debussy handles the emergence of the Cathedral and its mighty organ from the misty depths with astonishing power.

The final two preludes are much lighter. La Danse de Puck conjures up Shakespeare’s merry wanderer of the night with faint echoes of Ravel’s Scarbo. The 12th Prelude Minstrels is a skilful montage of musical tricks, a witty finale to these extraordinary Preludes that combine beauty, refinement, clarity, grandeur, sophistication and humour – a modern master at the height of his powers.

David Winter