About this Recording
8.550262 - DEBUSSY: Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune / Nocturnes

Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)

Prelude à l'apres-midi d'un faune
(Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun)
La mer

The French composer Claude Debussy was to exercise a powerful influence over his successors, not least through his harmonic experiment and his delicate handling of timbres. This second quality is particularly apparent in his use of relatively large orchestral forces to create effects often of the greatest delicacy, comparable to his poetic treatment of the piano.

Debussy was born in 1862, the son of a shop-keeper, who was later to turn his hand to other activities, with varying success. He started piano lessons at the age of seven and continued, two years later, improbable as it may sound, with Verlaine's mother-in-law, who claimed to have been a pupil of Chopin. In 1872 he entered the Conservatoire, where he abandoned the plan of becoming a virtuoso pianist, turning his principal attention to composition. In 1880, at the age of eighteen, he was employed by Tchaikovsky's unseen patroness Nadezhda von Meck as a tutor to her children and a house-musician. On his return to the Conservatoire he entered the class of Bizet's friend Ernest Guiraud. In 1884 he won the Prix de Rome and the following year reluctantly took up obligatory residence, according to the terms of the prize, at the Villa Medici in Rome, where he met Liszt. By 1887 he was back in Paris, winning his first significant success in 1900 with his Nocturnes and going on, two years later, to a succes de scandale with his opera Pelléas et Mélisande, based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck.

Debussy's personal life brought some unhappiness in his first marriage, in 1899, to a mannequin, Lily Texier, and his association, from 1903, with Emma Bardac, the wife of a banker and an amateur singer, whom he eventually married in 1908. Debussy's final years were darkened by the war and by cancer, the cause of his death in March, 1918. His death interrupted a series of chamber works, only three of which he completed.

The famous Prelude à l’apres-midi d'un faune was completed in 1894. It was later to achieve unwarranted notoriety in the overtly erotic mime of the dancer Nizhinsky, when the score was used by Dyagilev for a ballet in 1912. Debussy was unhappy with this treatment of his work. The inspiration for w hat was essentially revolutionary music came from a poem by Mallarme, with its subtly sensuous suggestions of a pagan world. In the form of an Eclogue, the poem is in the words of a Faun, half-goat, half-man, in the mould of the pagan god Pan. He is stirred by the sight of passing nymphs, as he lies resting from the heat of mid-day in a wooded glade. The music opens with the sound of the Faun's reed-pipe, represented by the flute, in a score that makes imaginative use of woodwind, two harps and strings, with percussion confined to delicate antique cymbals, used with sparing yet telling effect.

Debussy originally planned his Nocturnes as a series of pieces for the famous Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaÿe, a work that he completed in 1896, deriving inspiration from the poet Henri de Regnier, under its first title Trois scenes au crepuscule (Three Scenes at Twilight), conceived in the years 1892 and 1893. The final orchestral version of the work was completed in 1900.

The first of the three sections of the work, Nuages (Clouds), provides a poetically evocative opening, a reflection of the movement of the clouds across the sky. It is followed by Fetes (Festivals), a re-creation of holiday festivities in the Bois de Boulogne. The third Nocturne, Sirenes (Sirens), returns to the gentler mood of the first. A traditional riddle had puzzled over what song the Sirens sang to lure ancient Greek sailors to their doom. Debussy provides his own answer, a picture of the sea in majesty, beauty and variety, foreshadowing La mer. The song of the Sirens is represented by a wordless female chorus.

The three evocative symphonic sketches that form La mer were completed in 1905 after two years' work. The period of his life was a difficult one, as he resolved, in 1904, to abandon his wife and elope with Emma Bardac, a woman of a much more cultured background. His marriage in 1899 had already led his former mistress to attempt suicide and in 1905 his deserted wife, for whom his former friends had much sympathy, followed the same course, with equal lack of success. The social consequences for Debussy were serious, and he took refuge with Emma Bardac in an Eastbourne hotel. Shortly after the first performance of La mer in 1905, Emma Bardac gave birth to a daughter, Claude-Emma, to be known in the family as Chou-Chou.

There is no sign in La mer of the domestic stress under which Debussy was labouring during the period of its composition. He makes delicate use of a large orchestra in structures of some complexity, the three sketches corresponding in some measure to the traditional forms of sonata, rondo and free fantasia. Although analogies with French Impressionism were drawn by contemporaries, others have seen rather a reflection of the composer's admiration for the English painter Turner, while the influence of Japanese woodcuts was demonstrated in the choice of Hokusai's Wave, from the Views of Fujiyama, at the front of the printed score. The first sketch takes us from dawn to noon on the sea, in a rich and varied musical texture, a mosaic of orchestral sound. This is followed by the sport of the waves, a scherzo-like movement, and the final conversation of wind and sea, leading to a climax of hedonistic ecstasy.

BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels
The history of the BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels goes back to the birth of the Belgian Radio in the 1930's. After the well-known musicologist and promoter of contemporary music, Paul Collaer, had become head of the Music Department of the Belgian Radio, the orchestra, under its conductor Franz Andre gained a world-wide reputation for its interpretations of the latest compositions of Stravinsky, Berg, Bartók, Hindemith and other 20th century composers. For example, the orchestra gave the first European performance of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra in Paris and the first West European performance of the Four1h Symphony by Shostakovich. The orchestra at that time worked with many of today's leading conductors from Pierre Boulez, Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud to Lorin Maazel and Zubin Mehta.

In 1978 the Radio Symphony Orchestra was dissolved and both the Flemish and the French Radio divisions set up their own symphony orchestras. The Flemish network soon had a new orchestra, the BRT Philharmonic, comprising some 90 musicians and Fernand Terby became its principal conductor from 1978 to 1988. Since 1988, Alexander Rahbari has been the principal conductor and musical director of the new BRT Philharmonic Orchestra.

Alexander Rahbari
Alexander Rahbari was born in Iran in 1948 and was trained as a conductor at the Vienna Music Academy as a pupil of von Einem, Swarowsky and Osterreicher. On his return to Iran he was appointed director of the Teheran Conservatory of Music and took a leading position in the cultural development of his country .In 1977 he moved to Europe, winning first prize in the Besançon International Conductors' Competition and the Geneva silver medal. In 1979 he was invited by Herber1 von Karajan to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and served as von Karajan's assistant in Salzburg. Rahbari's subsequent career has been highly successful, with concer1s throughout the world and engagements in leading opera-houses. He is guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, with Giuseppe Sinopoli, and has conducted major orchestras throughout Europe, in Japan and in Canada. Alexander Rahbari is now a citizen of Austria.

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