Composer: Claude Debussy (b. 1862 - d. 1918)
Performance date: 05/07/2017
Venue: St. Brendan’s Church
Composition Year: 1915
Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Andreja Malir -
Timothy Ridout - [viola]
Adam Walker - [flute]
the outbreak of the First World War, Debussy composed no major music
for nearly a year. Debussy described himself as
a factory of nothingness.
In a letter to his agent he wrote it’s
impossible to work! To tell you the truth I don’t dare to.
Then, in the second half of 1915, he completed four major works of
which this sonata was one. These late works were different from
anything he had composed before.
recognised that his music had changed. As he wrote to a friend,
me. I sound as if I have just discovered music. But in all humility,
that’s rather what I feel like.
This late style may partly reflect the change in the musical scene in
Paris during the First World War. The great tide of avant-garde music
and art which swept Paris before 1914 had receded. Now the mood was
conservative, patriotic and, inevitably, deeply anti-German. The new
musical style may also reflect Debussy’s deteriorating physical
condition. He had cancer and it was not responding to treatment.
Nevertheless, Debussy’s late style is considered important. It
anticipates the neo-classicism which became popular in the 1920s.
was clearly conscious that by composing sonatas he was open to the
charge of not being patriotic or, even worse, of being pro-German.
He became annoyed when the engraver of the frontispiece of the score
appeared to use gothic German characters. He changed engravers. If
there was still any doubt, Debussy described himself on the cover as
Debussy went on to
claim that his models were Couperin and Rameau, two impeccably French
composers from the first half of the eighteenth century. This may be
true but the fact is that none of the great classical composers of
the past would have found the structure of this sonata very strange.
The sonata has three movements. The first movement has two main
themes; they are developed and then repeated. The second movement is
The Finale is, well, a finale. However both the second and third
movements contain themes from the first movement. This cyclic
structure was the hallmark of César Frank, another French rather
than German composer.
completed only three of the planned six
sonates pour divers instruments.
The Sonata for Flute, Harp and Viola is the second of these. The
combination of the flute and harp may remind some listeners of the
sensuous quality of one of Debussy’s most famous earlier works.
But this is no lush, languid afternoon with a fawn. Quite the
contrary, although the sonata has charm, it is also cool, elegant,
detached and, in places, sad.
flute in the treble tends to dominate. The harp provides wonderful
accompaniment and the viola lies somewhere in between. As well as
accompanying the flute, the viola changes the texture and the mood of
the music; for example in the faster section in the middle of the
Interlude has a relaxed open air and may have influenced Gershwin for
parts of An
This is more of A
Sophisticated Parisian in Paris.
The finale is certainly rapid but an air of sadness keeps creeping
in. All three movements end quietly. There is no hint of triumph
here. Debussy said of this sonata “It is terribly melancholy and I
don’t know whether one should laugh or cry – perhaps both?”
Maybe so, but Debussy has created an exquisite variety of musical
ideas and textures for a sonata written in very difficult times.
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