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Claude Debussy's Préludes are two sets of pieces for solo piano. They are divided into two separate livres, or books, of twelve preludes each. Unlike previous cycles of twenty-four preludes, like that of Chopin, Debussy's do not follow a strict set pattern of key signatures, but instead allude to possible keys throughout the preludes. Each book was written in a matter of months. Book 2 appeared almost exactly three years after Book 1. The first book was written between December 1909 and February 1910, and the second between the last months of 1912 and beginning of April 1913. Debussy’s piano preludes helped transform the relatively unimportant purpose that preludes served into one that gave them much more significance.

Contents

Premier Livre

the famous "church bell chords" of Prelude #10
  1. Danseuses de Delphes (Dancers of Delphi): Lent et grave
  2. Voiles (Veils or sails): Modéré
  3. Le vent dans la plaine (The Wind in the Plain): Animé
  4. Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir (The sounds and fragrances swirl through the evening air): Modéré
  5. Les collines d'Anacapri (The Hills of Anacapri): Très modéré
  6. Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow): Triste et lent
  7. Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest (What the West Wind has seen): Animé et tumultueux
  8. La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair): Très calme et doucement expressif
  9. La sérénade interrompue (Interrupted Serenade): Modérément animé
  10. La cathédrale engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral): Profondément calme
  11. La danse de Puck (Puck's Dance): Capricieux et léger
  12. Minstrels: Modéré

Deuxième Livre

  1. Brouillards (Mists): Modéré
  2. Feuilles mortes (Dead Leaves): Lent et mélancolique
  3. La puerta del Vino (The Wine Gate): Mouvement de Habanera
  4. Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses ("Fairies are exquisite dancers"): Rapide et léger
  5. Bruyères (Heather): Calme
  6. Général Lavine - eccentric: Dans le style et le mouvement d'un Cakewalk
  7. La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune (The Terrace of Moonlit Audiences): Lent
  8. Ondine (Undine): Scherzando
  9. Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. (Homage to S. Pickwick): Grave
  10. Canope (Canopic jar): Très calme et doucement triste
  11. Les tierces alternées (Alternating Thirds): Modérément animé
  12. Feux d'artifice (Fireworks): Modérément animé

There is an ongoing debate whether or not Debussy intended the preludes to be performed in a cycle. Although Debussy never explicitly stated that the preludes were meant to be performed in a series, there is a strong tonal relationship between the preludes that suggests that the order of preludes is not arbitrary.[1] For example, the first three preludes in the first book (Danseuses De Delphes, Voiles, and Le Vent Dans La Plaine) revolve around the key of Bb.[2] In these first three preludes, allusions to the key of Bb disappear and reappear, yet a strong sense of fluidity and connection between the preludes is still maintained. The tonal relationship between each prelude is subtle, requiring the listener’s utmost attention. In addition to the strong tonal relationship between the preludes, the titles of the preludes are equally as significant. The titles were given by the composer to create images or sensory associations for the listener. The images that the titles evoke in the listener’s mind directly reflect the musical characteristics of each prelude. For example, the first prelude in the second book, “Brouillards,” translated to English is “fog” or “mists.” The title directly reflects the piece’s tonal ambiguity and helps enhance the enigmatic quality of the piece.Several are poetically vague: for example, the meaning of Voiles, the title of the second prelude of the first book, is ambiguous, since the noun's gender is unknown (in French, voiles can mean either "veils" or "sails" depending on gender). The titles are written at the end of each movement, allowing the performer to discover impressions for himself, without being guided by Debussy's own thoughts. In addition to the visual affects the titles had on the listener, Debussy used visual elements in his playing of the piano to help create a unique sound in his preludes. For example, in “Brouillards” Debussy plays all white keys with his left hand and all black keys with his right. The visual contrast between black and white keys added a new sensorial element to Debussy’s composing of the preludes that transcended aural perception, helping to characterize his unique style.

The pieces' moods vary wildly, from the "profound calm" of La cathédrale engloutie to the tumultuous, unrestrained virtuosity of Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest, and from the mysterious Brouillards, to the explosive Feux d'artifice.

The most famous of the preludes are both from the first book; La fille aux cheveux de lin is a brief but harmonically complex Pre-Raphaelite expression of beauty. La cathédrale engloutie alludes to the legend of the sunken city of Ys in which the cathedral was allowed to rise once a day as a reminder of the glorious city that was lost, then become submerged again.

Media

  • Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: I. Brouillards
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: II. Feuilles Mortes
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: III. La Puerta Del Vino
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: IV. 'Les Fées Sont D'Exquises Danseuses'
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: V. Bruyères
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: VI. 'General Lavine' - Excentric
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: VII. La Terrasse Des Audiences Du Clair De Lune
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: VIII. Ondine
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: IX. Hommage À S. Pickwick, Esq., P.P.M.P.C.
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: X. Canope
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: XI. Les Tierces Alternées
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
    Debussy: Préludes, Book 2: XII. Feux D'Artifice
    Performed by Giorgi Latsabidze
  • Problems listening to the files? See media help.

Orchestrations

Various orchestrations have been made of the various preludes, mostly of La fille aux cheveux de lin and La cathédrale engloutie. Complete orchestrations of all 24 preludes include versions by Colin Matthews, Luc Brewaeys, and Hans Henkemans.

Sources

References

  1. ^ Roberts, Paul. IMAGES The Piano Music of Claude Debussy. Portland, OR: AMADEUS PRESS, 1996. Print.
  2. ^ Roberts, Paul. IMAGES The Piano Music of Claude Debussy. Portland, OR: AMADEUS PRESS, 1996. Print.

Further Reading

  • Guido, Gatti M., Frederick H. Martens, and Claude Debussy. "The Piano Works of Claude Debussy." The Musical Quarterly 7.3 (1921): 418-60. Print.

External links








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