Préludes, Book II – selection
“Dear me, what amazing piano playing!” said Igor Stravinsky upon hearing Claude Debussy (1862–1918). Debussy was indeed an excellent pianist – he originally studied the piano at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he only later focused on composition, and he actually was a professional pianist throughout his life. Yet, having a penchant for orchestral colours, he wrote most of his seminal piano pieces in his later creative periods. These include two books of Préludes, dating from 1910 and 1912–1913, respectively. Deemed to be a tribute to Fryderyk Chopin, the 24 pieces for solo piano reflect Debussy’s Impressionist conjuring with keys, pentatonic and chromatic scales, as well as reminiscences of the art of the French clavecinists. Unlike Chopin’s Préludes, Debussy’s are programme works, with each of the “impressions” captured in the score notated on three staves (often used by the composer) bearing a title of a descriptive nature. The third prelude from Book 2, La puerta del Vino (The Wine Gate), is based on a Spanish habanera; the fifth, Bruyères (Heather), evokes a peaceful view of a wide landscape; the sixth, Général Lavine – eccentric, is marked in the style and tempo of a cake walk; the eighth, Ondine, portrays the charming mythical water nymph; the ninth, Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C., is a humorous homage to Charles Dickens, featuring in the bass God Save the King, the anthem of the British Empire; the tenth, Canope, refers to the Ancient Egyptian funerary urn; the twelfth, Feux d´artifice (Fireworks), a virtuoso piece containing a quotation of the Marseillaise, concludes Book 2. Debussy’s Préludes place high technical requirements on the pianist, and are particularly challenging in terms of expression. There is no proof that the composer wanted the pieces to be performed as a cycle, and thus the selection of the preludes you will hear today is not at variance with Debussy’s intention.