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8.550505 - DEBUSSY: Images / Le martyre de Saint Sebastien

Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)

Le martyre de Saint Sébastien (fragments symphoniques)
Marche ecossaise sur un theme populaire
Berceuse heroique

The French composer Claude Debussy exercised 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, in a manner 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, improbably enough, 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 patroness Nadezhda von Meck as tutor to her children and house-musician. On his return to the Conservatoire he entered the class of Bizet's friend Ernest Guiraud and in 1864 won the Prix de Rome, the following year reluctantly taking 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 Nocturnes and going on, two years later, to a succes de scan dale with his opera Pélleas et Melisande, 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. In the summer of 1904 he had abandoned his wife, moving into an apartment with Emma Bardac, and the subsequent attempt at suicide by the former alienated a number of the composer's friends. His final years were darkened by the war and by cancer, the cause of his death in March 1918, when he left unfinished a planned chamber music series, of which only three works had been completed.

The orchestral Images occupied Debussy intermittently over a period of seven years, from 1905 to 1912, the chosen title an echo of an earlier work for piano. The completed orchestral composition opens with Gigues, originally Gigues tristes, apparently inspired by Verlaine's poem Streets, that had later been set to the tune of the Northumbrian Keel Row. Written during the poet's stay in London and suggested by a street-corner in Soho, the poem is elegiac in tone, its refrain, Dansons la gigue!, poignant in its repetition as the writer recalls happier times of love - Je me souviens, je me souviens / des heures et des entretiens, / et c'est le meilleur de mes biens.

The second section of Images, Iberia, is in three movements, Par les rues et par les chemins, Les parfums de la nuit and Le matin d'un jour de fete. The streets of Spain are evoked in bright orchestral colours, including the sound of the castanets and the tambourine or tambour de basque. The second movement gives a languorous dream-picture of the delicate fragrances of the night, introduced by the oboe over a sustained high pedal note in the strings. The music moves to a climax of intensity and as the peace of night returns, the bells of morning are heard. The third movement follows without a break, a distant march, interrupted briefly by a memory of the night. The upper strings assume the role of guitars as the music continues with a carnival medley, the Spanish fiesta of the title, fragments of festivity through which can be heard the tolling of the bells and the whole-tone motif of the French horns.

The score of the third part of Images, Ronde de printemps, has at its head a translation of a verse by Politian, Vive le Mai, bienvenu so it le Mai / Avec son gonfalon sauvage (Long live May, welcome be May / With her wild banner). The wild banner of May is not immediately apparent in the music, which opens in the frost of remembered winter, a high string tremolo serving as background for fragments of melody from the woodwind, a gradual spring awakening, leading to a dance, leger et fantasque, which gives way to an impressionist picture of a spring morning, into which is woven the French folk-song, “Nous n'irons plus au bois”, a sentiment not entirely appropriate to the occasion.

The orchestral Le martyre de Saint Sebastien is derived from incidental music written in 1911 for the mystery by Gabriele d' Annunzio, orchestrated in part by Andre Caplet. The original work combined cantata, opera and ballet, and was choreographed for Ida Rubinstein by Fokin, with decor by Bakst. D'Annunzio's work attempts to combine the myth of Adonis with the Christian story of St. Sebastian. The first of the symphonic fragments, under the title La cour de Iys (The Court of Lilies), is introduced by the woodwind, joined by muted cellos and double basses, before the emergence of an oboe melody accompanied by two of the three harps for which the work is scored. The music sets the scene for the martyrdom of two young Christians. The second movement, Danse extatique et final du 1ier acte (Ecstatic Dance and Finale of the First Act), accompanies the dance of Sebastian on burning embers in self-punishment, ending in a miraculous vision. La passion finds the saint welcoming his own martyrdom, while the final Le bon pasteur (The Good Shepherd) accompanies Sebastian's vision of sacrifice in the grove of Apollo.

Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire (Scottish March on a popular theme), originally in the form of a piano duet, was written at the request of the Scottish General Meredith Reid, a descendant of the lords of Ross, and makes use of a traditional melody associated with the clan. It was written in 1891. The Berceuse heroique of 1914 had an overtly patriotic motive, commissioned by the writer Hall Caine as part of a collection of tributes to King Albert of the Belgians and his armies. The work makes use of the Belgian national anthem, La Brabançonne.

BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels
The history of the BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels goes back to the birth of the Belgian Radio in the 1930s. 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. The orchestra gave the first European performance of Bart6k's Concerto for Orchestra in Paris and the first West European performance of the Fourth Symphony by Shostakovich, and has, over the years, worked with many 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, with 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 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 Österreicher. 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 Herbert 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 concerts throughout the world and engagements in leading opera-houses. In the 1986-87 season he appeared for the first time with the BRT Philharmonic and in September 1988, accepted appointment as principal conductor. Rahbari is Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and has conducted major orchestras throughout Europe, in Japan and in Canada. Alexander Rahbari is now a citizen of Austria. For Naxos, he has recorded symphonies by Brahms and Shostakovich, works by Stravinsky, Bartók and Debussy as well as a number of complete operas, including Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Carmen, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana.

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