About this Recording
8.578077-78 - Easy-Listening Piano Classics: Debussy and Ravel

Naxos’ Easy-Listening Piano Classics presents a delightful range of music from Baroque masterpieces to beautiful works of the Classic and Romantic eras, specially selected for discerning listeners to enjoy at home or work, while relaxing, entertaining or travelling.


Like Haydn and Mozart or Bruckner and Mahler, Debussy and Ravel are frequently paired, although the differences between them are at least as striking as the similarities. The senior of the two, Claude Debussy (1862–1918), was more prolific and perhaps more innovative than Maurice Ravel (1875–1937), though this does not diminish the latter’s achievement. While both composers are often referred to as ‘Impressionists’, this needs to be qualified: Debussy objected to this characterisation, writing in 1908 ‘I am trying to do “something different”—an effect of reality…what the imbeciles call “impressionism”, a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by the critics, since they do not hesitate to apply it to [the Romantic English painter] Turner, the finest creator of mysterious effects in all the world of art’; Ravel saw himself primarily as a ‘Classicist’, indeed, Stravinsky notoriously dismissed him as a ‘watchmaker’. Whatever fine distinctions may be drawn, the music of both these composers— rich, subtle, abounding in ravishing melodies and exquisite harmonies—has become central to the concert repertoire.

‘Debussy isn’t very fond of the piano,’ remarked his teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, Antoine François Marmontel, ‘but he loves music.’ Marmontel was an astute judge: despite precocious talent, Debussy developed slowly as a composer for the instrument. In the process, while not forgetting admired models from the past such as Couperin, Rameau, Chopin and Schumann, he would revolutionise music with his use of unusual tonalities (modal, pentatonic, whole-tone, bitonal), novel modulations and other technical innovations. Debussy saw music as ‘not even the expression of a feeling, it’s the feeling itself’, noting that ‘music is not, in essence, a thing that can be cast into a traditional and fixed form. It is made up of colours and rhythms.’ ‘The sound of the sea, the curve of the horizon, the wind in the leaves, the cry of a bird registers complex impressions within us. Then, suddenly, without any deliberate consent on our part, one of those memories issues forth to express itself in the language of music,’ he wrote. ‘There is no theory. You merely have to listen. Pleasure is the law.’

Ravel also studied at the Paris Conservatoire, undertaking further studies with Gabriel Fauré and André Gédalge, and feeling the influence of such contrasting composers as Emmanuel Chabrier and Erik Satie. The luminous precision of his own compositional style embraced Lisztian bravura and Renaissance melancholy, the clarity of a Baroque composer such as Couperin or Rameau and the brooding romanticism of Mussorgsky, fairy tales and foreign locales (Spain, the Near East, Madagascar), Mozart and American jazz, Saint-Saëns, Schubert and Schoenberg… However, as Ravel’s biographer Vladimir Jankélévitch has commented, ‘no influence can claim to have conquered him entirely…Ravel remains ungraspable behind all these masks’ and his music was no more ‘nostalgic’, ‘modernist’ or ‘impressionist’ than that of Debussy. Indeed, he was always his own man. It is said that when George Gershwin met Ravel, he asked whether he could study with him, to which the Frenchman replied, ‘Why do you want to become a second-rate Ravel when you are already a first-rate Gershwin?’ But when Ravel discovered how much money the American earned, Ravel suggested that he should study with Gershwin!

If you’ve enjoyed this album, why not try these titles as well?

8.550683 RAVEL: Piano Works, Vol. 1
8.553008 RAVEL: Piano Works, Vol. 2
8.553290 DEBUSSY: Piano Music, Vol. 1
8.553291 DEBUSSY: Piano Music, Vol. 2
8.553292 DEBUSSY: Piano Music, Vol. 3
8.553294 DEBUSSY: Piano Music, Vol. 5
8.225946-47HDCD DEBUSSY: Preludes, Books 1 and 2

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