Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mozart - Concert Aria For Soprano "Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!" K.418

The world of 18th century opera was a markedly different environment in many ways than the modern day opera house. With no copyright protection for composers, many of them supervised the first productions of their operas to earn some money off of their music before it was pirated by other opera companies and publishers. But the best singers back then, like the best singers now, were the stars of the show. Most opera composers wrote music with specific singers in mind, and the singers themselves would take many liberties with the music for the sake of displaying particular vocal strong points, so much that the original music could get lost in a sea of added ornamentation, runs and long held notes.

Composers could be part of this cavalier attitude towards opera as well. A custom of the time was for composers to write arias for specific singers that were called insertion arias because they would be inserted in place of an original aria written by the opera's composer. In Mozart's time the use of insertion arias had been going on for so long that they had become a tradition, and many of Mozart's concert arias were originally written as insertion arias.  Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio! (Let me explain, oh God!) K.418 is just such an insertion aria. Mozart wrote it for his sister-in-law Aloysia Weber, a soprano that had a successful career on the Vienna opera stage. At one time Mozart had wanted to marry Aloysia, but he ended up marrying her sister Constanze instead.  Mozart wrote other insertion arias for Aloysia and she performed roles in some of his operas as well. She must have been a fine singer because the arias Mozart wrote for her are quite demanding.

Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio! was written to be inserted in an opera titled  Il curioso indiscreto (The Curious, Indiscreet Man) by the composer Pasquale Anfossi. The libretto was based on the book Don Quixote. The aria begins in a slow tempo with muted strings and a beautiful part for oboe that continues in duet with the soprano who sings the part of Clorinda, who is in love with a Count, who is promised in marriage to another woman named Emilia. Clorinda sings that she wishes she could explain to him why she appears not to return his love. The tempo quickens in the second part of the aria as she urges him to leave her, telling him to go to Emilia.  Mozart puts the soprano through her paces as he uses notes that span over two octaves in this effective and impressive aria.

Let me explain, oh God,
What my grief is!
But fate has condemned me
To weep and stay silent.

My heart may not pine
For the one I would like to love
Making me seem hard-hearted
And cruel.

 Ah, Count, part from me,
Run, flee
Far away from me;
Your beloved Emilia awaits you
 Don't let her languish,
She is worthy of love.

Ah, pitiless stars!
You are hostile to me.
I am lost when he stays.
Part from me, run,
Speak not of love,
Her heart is yours.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rubinstein - Persian Love Songs, Opus 35, No. 9 'Swirling Waves'

As a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment, artists of the late 18th century began to create works that were reflections of their ideals of free expression. This was the beginning of the Romantic movement, a movement that was guided by numerous influences, with the emphasis on emotion.  The emotion most often represented was love, which sometimes took the form of unrequited love that ended in the violent end of one or both the parties involved.

Mizra Shafi Vazeh
Another influence on the Romantics was the exoticism of different lands and peoples. These were often expressed as crude stereotypes such as the Janissary music imitated by Mozart in the third movement of his Piano Sonata In A Major K.331.  But exoticism also exerted an influence through artists that were natives of those far away places. One of those artists was a poet from Azerbaijan, Mirza Shafi Vazeh, who continued the tradition of Azerbaijani classic poetry. He was also fluent in the Persian language and some of those poems were collected by one of his devoted German disciples Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt.  Mirza Shafi Vazeh was literate but seldom wrote down his poems. Bodenstedt wrote some of them down in the original Persian, translated them to German and in 1851 published them in a book titled Die Lieder des Mirza Schaffy.  Anton Rubinstein chose twelve poems from this book to set to music for his opus 34 12 Lieder des Mirza-Schaffy, also known as Persian Love Songs. 

Friedrich von Bodenstedt
Rubinstein was second only to Liszt in his ability to play the piano. His repertoire was vast, his stamina legendary, he also became a conductor and founded the St. Petersburg Conservatory. But he also had ambitions as a composer and wrote a huge amount of music in all the forms of the day.  His 4th Piano concerto was once a staple of the repertoire, but despite a modern resurgence of interest, his music is rarely heard. Persian Love Songs has been recorded a few times and although the text Rubinstein set was in German, they are usually sung in Russian translation.  The 9th song in the set, 'Swirling Waves', was a favorite of the Russian opera singer Feodor Chaliapin, whose interpretation of the song has become somewhat of a tradition.  The video below has a recording sung by Boris Shtokolov, one of the most famous Russian bass singers of the modern era. His interpretation adds some of the falsetto singing introduced in the song by Chaliapin that deviates from Rubinstein's original music:

At my feet the swirling waves of the Kura River,
In the dancing bustle of the waves,
The sun smiles brightly, as do my heart and the meadow,
Oh, that it would ever remain thus!

The red Kakhetian wine sparkles in the glass,
That is filled by my beloved,
And with the wine I draw in her glances as well,
Oh,that it would ever remain thus!

The sun is sinking, already night is darkening,
But my heart, like the star of love,
Flames in the deepest darkness, in brightest splendor.
Oh, that it would ever remain thus!

Into the black sea of your eyes rushes
The raging river of my love;
Come, maiden, it is getting dark and no one can hear us!
Oh, that it would ever remain thus!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Debussy - Nuit d'étoiles (Starry Night)

Claude Debussy is most well known for his works written for piano solo. But he wrote around 55 songs for voice and piano throughout his career as well.  His first published work was in fact a song, Nuit d'étoiles (Starry Night), written to the text of a poem by Théodore de Banville, a French poet and writer of the 19th century.

Debussy wrote the song in 1880 when he was 18 years old. The song is a very good representation of Debussy's early works as well as how nature and literature inspired the young composer.  The original poem has 4 stanzas, but Debussy chose to omit the third one.  The piano accompaniment imitates the lyre mentioned in the first stanza while the voice tells the story of lost love.

Théodore de Banville

Starry Night 
Théodore de Banville
Starry night, under your veils,
under your night air and scents,
With a sad sighing lyre,
I dream of dead loves.

The serene melancholy bursts from
deep in my heart,
And I hear the soul of my love
Tremble in the deep woods.

I remember the fountain,
your blue eyes like the sky,
your breath like roses,
and your eyes like the stars.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Handel - Messiah

When Charles Jennens gave his libretto of Messiah to George Handel in 1741, he would have no idea that almost 300 years later the oratorio would still be performed and continue to be one of the most famous and popular works for chorus and soloists.  Jennens came from a wealthy landowning family in England who was also a patron of the arts. He was a writer, Bible scholar, and had such a good knowledge of music that he complained about Handel's setting of the text:
Messiah has disappointed me, being set in great haste, tho’ [Handel] said he would be a year about it, and make it the best of all his Compositions. I shall put no more Sacred Words into his hands, to be thus abus’d... ‘Tis still in his power by retouching the weak parts to make it fit for publick performance; and I have said a great deal to him on the Subject; but he is so lazy and so obstinate, that I much doubt the Effect.
Eventually Handel (known for his stubbornness, which was probably intensified by Jenner's inflated ego) made some of the changes suggested by Jenner after the first English performance of the oratorio in 1743. The premiere of the work was given in Dublin, Ireland  during the winter concert season of 1741-1742. The proceeds of the Dublin premiere were given to charity, a practice that continued with every performance of Messiah throughout Handel's lifetime. In England the proceeds were given to The Foundling Hospital in London, and Handel bequeathed a copy of his score to the hospital upon his death.

The 250-plus pages of the score to Messiah were written in 24 days, quite a feat but not out of the ordinary for Handel and other Baroque era composers. Most music that was publicly performed at the time was new music, and the demand was high, so many composers wrote fast and reused their own music as well as the music of others.  The scoring of the work was also done according to the practice of the times, with parts for violins, violas and cellos, figured bass, 4-part chorus and soloists. But additional instruments would double some of the parts at performances when they were available, and not every set piece was included in every performance, thus there can never be a definitive performance of Messiah, but recent musical scholarship has allowed for accurate performances within the musical traditions and practices of the time.  

Messiah has been performed as a sacred piece as well as a work of the concert hall. Jennens and Handel most likely intended it for an evening's entertainment, as were most oratorios of the time. As a complete performance of  Messiah can last two and a half hours, it certainly takes up a full evening.  Hopefully the audience attending Messiah acted better than the typical opera audiences of the time that talked, yelled at each other, booed and cheered singers and kept up a general ruckus throughout the opera. Messiah is divided into three main parts:

1) Sinfony
As oratorios were in many ways unstaged operas, the convention of an overture was used. Here Handel calls it a Sinfony, and it is written in the style of a French overture. It begins with a slow section with double dotted notes in a minor key. The second section is a fugue in a slightly faster tempo.
2) Tenor recitative
Messiah is different from most oratorios as there are no assigned roles to the soloists, and no characters. The words of the King James Version of the Bible are used throught the work, and the first part begins with the foretelling of the coming of Messiah in the Old Testament, and then celebrates the birth of Messiah in the New Testament.

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God:
speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her,
that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.
The voice of him that crieth  in the wilderness:
prepare ye the way of the Lord,make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.

3) Tenor air
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill
made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

4) Chorus
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together;
for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

5) Bass recitative
This selection for bass shows Handel's flair for emphasizing the text. He makes use of melisma, the technique of using many notes on one part or syllable of a word. The word shake is literally shaken by the soloist:
Handel makes continual use of tone painting to enhance the text, no doubt one of the many reasons why the oratorio remains so popular.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; yet once in a little while, and I will shake the
heav'ns and the earth, the sea, the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the desire
of all nations shall come.
The Lord whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple,
ev'n the messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in, behold, he shall come,
saith the Lord of hosts.

6) Alto recitative
But who may abide the day of his coming?
And who shall stand when he appeareth.
For he is like a refiner's fire.

7) Chorus
And he shall purify the sons of Levi that they may
offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness.

8) Alto recitative
Behold, a virgin shall concieve and bear a son,
and shall call his name Emmanuel,
God with us.

9) Alto air and chorus
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain;
o thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem lift up thy voice with strength;
lift it up, be not afraid, say unto the cities of Judah; behold your God
Arise, shine for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen above thee.

10) Bass recitative
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth and gross darkness the people;
but the Lord shall rise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee,
And the gentiles shall come to they light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

11) Bass air
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,
and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined.

12) Chorus
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and the government shall be upon his shoulder;
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God,
the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

13) Pastoral Symphony
A short orchestral interlude that gives the feeling of sheep contentedly grazing, and begins the section of the birth of Messiah

14a) Soprano recitative
There were sheperds, abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night.

14b) Soprano recitative

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone
round about them, and they were sore afraid.

15) Soprano recitative
And the angel said unto them fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings
of great joy which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the
city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

16) Soprano recitative
And suddenly there was with the angel a
multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying:

17) Chorus
Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men.

18) Soprano air
Rejoice greatly, o daughter of Zion, shout,
o daughter of Jerusalem, behold, thy king cometh unto thee.
He is the righteous Saviour, and he shall speak peace unto the heathen.

19) Alto recitative
Thou shall see the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.

20) Alto air
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, and he shall gather the lambs with his arm
and carry them in his bosom and gently lead those that are with young.

21) Chorus
His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

The second part deals with the life, death and rising from the dead of Messiah.
22) Chorus
Behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.

23) Alto air
He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
He gave his back to the smiters and his cheeks to them
that plucked off the hair, he hid not his face from shame and spitting.

24) Chorus
Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities,
the chastisement of our peace was upon him.

25) Chorus
And with his striped we are healed.

26) Chorus
All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way.
And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

27) Tenor recitative
All they that see him laugh him to scorn;
they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads saying:

28) Chorus
He trusted in God that he would deliver him:
let him deliver him, if he delight in him.

29) Tenor recitative
Thy rebuke hath broken his heart, he is full of heaviness:
he looked for some to have pity on him, but there was no man,
neither found he any, to comfort him.

30) Tenor air
Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto his sorrow.

31) Tenor recitative
He was cut off out of the land of the living,
for the transgressions of thy people was he stricken.

32) Tenor air
But thou didst not leave his soul in hell
nor didst thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.

33) Chorus
Lift up your heads, o ye gates and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors,
and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is the King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, o ye gates and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors,
and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is the King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.

34) Tenor recitative
Unto which of the angels said he at any time, thou art my Son,
this day I have begotten thee?

35) Chorus
Let all the angels of God worship him.

36) Bass air
Thou art gone up on high, thou hast led captivity captive,
and received gifts for men, yea even for thine enemies,
that the Lord God might dwell among them.

37) Chorus
The Lord gave the word, great was the company of the preachers.

38) Soprano air
How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace,
and bring glad tidings of good things.

39) Chorus
Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world.

40) Bass air
Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his Anointed.

41) Chorus
Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from them.

42) Tenor recitative
He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn:
the Lord shall ave them in derision.

43) Tenor air
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron,
thou shalt dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.

44) Chorus
One of the most recognizable pieces of music ever written, the Hallelujah chorus is a supreme example of what Beethoven called Handel's genius as, "He created the greatest effect with the smallest of means."

Hallelujah, for the God omnipotent reigneth.
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ;
and he shall reign for ever and ever.
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.

The final part of the oratorio deals with the Christian promise for the believer on the second coming of Christ.

45) Soprano air
I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth;
and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.

46) Chorus
Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam we all die, even so in Christ shall all be made live.

47) Bass recitative
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

48) Bass air
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must be put in incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

49) Alto recitative
Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
death is swallowed up in victory.

50) Duet, alto and tenor
O death, where is they sting? O grave, where is they victory?
The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law.

51) Chorus
But thanks be to God, who giveth us the
victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

52) Soprano air
If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?
It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?
It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, who is at the
right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.

53) Chorus
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by his blood,
to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, glory, and blessing.
Blessing and honour, glory and power be unto him that sitteth on the throne,
and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Schubert - Gretchen am Spinnrade

Johann Goethe was a writer that inspired the entire 19th century world of art, specifically the Germanic-speaking world.  Franz Schubert fell under the spell of Goethe's works early on, and the first lied he set to Goethe's text was Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen At The Spinning Wheel), the text of which was taken from a scene in Faust. The year was 1814 and Schubert was 17 years old. Goethe remained an inspiration to Schubert for the rest of his short life as he wrote over 80 lieder to texts of Goethe, including his famous setting of Der Erlkönig

The scene depicts Gretchen at her spinning wheel as her mind drifts to Faust, a man she has recently met and fallen deeply in love with.  Schubert uses the piano as an illustrative device as the music depicts the wheel spinning in the right hand notes, the clicking of the spool that gathers the yarn in the staccato eighth-note accompaniment in the left hand and the pedal that makes the wheel spin in the lower notes in the left hand:

The passion of Gretchen grows until it reaches near madness in the 7th stanza, when the piano depicts the halting of the spinning wheel as she is overcome with the thought of his kiss. The wheel makes a few false starts before it begins again. The passion grows once again, until the first stanza is repeated and the wheel stops.  The song begins and ends in D minor, but Schubert takes the harmony far afield, a characteristic of Schubert's music that was to continue.  This song of 1814 led to one of Schubert's most productive years when in 1815 he wrote over 100 lieder as well as many works for orchestra and chorus.

There were many composers that wrote works of musical imagery before Schubert. The cantatas of Bach as well as the oratorios of Handel are but two examples of works that contained illustrative music, but Gretchen am Spinnrade was a turning point in the history of the German lied.  Schubert's fertile imagination and his pairing of the voice and piano as equal partners in musical expression influenced countless song composers.

Gretchen At The Spinning Wheel
My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never again.

Where I do not have him,
That is the grave,
The whole world
Is bitter to me.

My poor head
Is crazy to me,
My poor mind
Is torn apart.

My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never again.

I look only for him
Out the window
Only for him do I go
Out of the house.

His tall walk,
His noble figure,
His mouth's smile,
His powerful eyes,

His mouth's
Magic flow,
His touch,
and ah! his kiss!

My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never again.

My bosom urges itself
toward him.
Ah, might I grasp
And hold him!

And kiss him,
As I want,
With his kisses
I should die!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Purcell - Music For The Funeral Of Queen Mary

The English-born Henry Purcell is part of a group of composers that made their mark in music and died before the age of 40, as he died at the age of 36 in 1695.  Purcell brought his gifts to music mainly through songs, anthems, incidental music for the theater and opera. His first known composition was dated 1670 when he was 11 years old, and he continued to compose up until the time of his death.

Music For The Funeral Of Queen Mary was written upon the death of Queen Mary, the daughter of James II, King Of England. She had been married to William Of Orange of the Netherlands in 1677 as a way to patch up differences between the two countries. After James II had tried to return England to Catholicism, William and Mary (both Protestants) were invited to invade England by the members of parliament that were against King James II. The result was that in 1688 William sailed to England in over 400 ships and with 14,000 troops. He marched on London and gathered more and more local support the farther he went. The peaceful change of rule came to be known as the Glorious Revolution and the couple were crowned in 1689 as King William III and Queen Mary II.

William III made most of the decisions for the country as King, but when her husband was out of the country fighting the ongoing war with France, she proved herself an intelligent and capable ruler. She was a very popular ruler, and when she died in 1694 of smallpox, her husband and the nation went into mourning.  Her funeral was the first of any royal that was attended by both House of Parliament. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Purcell wrote new music based on previously written compositions for the Funeral Music For Queen Mary.  Purcell wrote the work for the usual four voiced choir of soprano, alto, tenor and bass; 4 flatt trumpets (in essence a slide trumpet that could play in minor keys), organ and basso continuo. Modern performances include timpani, which may or may not have been used when the music was played at the funeral.

The performance of the work in the link below is comprised of seven parts:

1) The Queen's Funeral March, Sounded Before Her Chariot -  The most well known part of the funeral music. The four trumpets play the march the first time quietly with the timpani adding muffled accents. The march is repeated at a higher volume, along with sparse ornaments in the trumpets.

2) Man That Is Born Of A Woman - The texts for the anthem is taken from the Common Book Of Prayer of the Church Of England
Man that is born of a woman
hath but a short time to live,
and is full of misery. He cometh up,
and is cut down like a flower;
he fleeth as it were a shadow,
and ne'er continueth in one stay.

3) Canzona - A short interlude for instruments only. The canzona was developed from various other forms and was used in the 16th and 17th centuries.

4) In The Midst Of Life We Are In Death -
Queen Mary II
In the midst of life we are in death:
of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord,
who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet, O Lord, O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Saviour,
deliver us not into the bitter pains
of eternal death.

5) Canzona - The previous short interlude is repeated.

6) Thou knowest, Lord
Thou knowest, Lord,
the secrets of our hearts;
shut not thy merciful ears
unto our pray'rs; but spare us, Lord most holy,
O God most mighty.
O holy and most merciful Saviour,
thou most worthy Judge eternal,
suffer us not, at our last hour,
for any pains of death, to fall from thee. Amen.

7) The Queen's Funeral March - The peaceful amen just sung is brought into perspective with the repeat of the mournful march.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Debussy - Preludes For Piano Book One

Claude Debussy has been identified with Impressionism, exemplified by the paintings of Renoir and Monet among others. Debussy himself disliked the term and rejected any association with it. As he said himself:
I am trying to do 'something different'...what the imbeciles call 'impressionism', a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by the critics. 
Some have suggested he was a proponent of Symbolism more than Impressionism, but  'isms' are but created labels that attempt to categorize. Not that these labels aren't useful. They certainly can give a sense of structure for study and understanding. But labels are models to aid in understanding. As soon as a model is used as a definite mold to force art to  conform to specific rules, the model loses its value.

Debussy's talent was such that he was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire when he was ten years old. During his 11 years there he constantly challenged his teachers and the directorship of Ambroise Thomas, a musical conservative.  He earned the praise and admiration of his teachers and fellow students for his abilities as a pianist and sight-reader, but his compositions were not understood. He understood the models of music that were taught in his classes, but he refused to allow his creativity to be controlled by them.

That is not to say that he was not influenced by other composers. Richard Wagner was a profound influence, as well as Mussorgsky. Older music also had an influence, such as the Baroque clavicenists such as Couperin as well as J.S. Bach. Each one of these influences were digested and internalized by Debussy's talent and transformed into his own highly original music. American Ragtime, the Gamelan from Java all played a part as well as literature and the visual arts.

Debussy was a slow and meticulous composer, but uncharacteristically the Preludes Book One was begun in late 1909 and finished three months later.  He kept with the traditional number of preludes of 24 (in two books of 12) as set by many composers before him, especially J.S. Bach and Chopin. But where Bach had his preludes (and the fugues that went with them) follow each other in a half-step progression of keys and Chopin followed the circle of fifths, Debussy's preludes follow no set key sequence, although groups of them seem to be tonally related.  Debussy doesn't use conventional keys hardly at all as he uses church modes, pentatonic scales and the whole tone scale in writing them.

Another unique feature of Debussy's preludes is that while each one is titled, the title appears at the end of the piece instead of the beginning.

1)  Danseuses de Delphes (Dancers of Delphi) -  Debussy begins with music inspired by ancient Greek dancers in music that gently moves through different types of scales and melodies.  This first prelude gives a clue to what will proceed, and renders what Debussy himself said is his musical objective:

Wagner pronounced himself in favor of the laws of harmony. I am for freedom. But freedom must essentially be free. All the noises we hear around ourselves can be re-created. Every sound perceived by the acute ear in the rhythm of the world about us can be represented musically. Some people wish to conform to the rules; for myself, I wish only to render what I can hear.
2)  Voiles (Veils or Sails) - The title of this prelude is ambiguous, quite appropriate for the music. Either the sails of ships billowing in a breeze, or the sensuous form of a woman only partially hidden by diaphanous veils. The whole tone scale is used throughout with the chromatic scale added for variety.

3)  Le vent dans la plaine (The wind in the plain) -  A depiction of strong as well as gentle breezes. There is no documentation as to whether Debussy intended the preludes to be played as an entire set. Shortly after their composition, Debussy himself as well as other pianists played them in groups of three.  The first three preludes sound well together played this way.

4)  Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir (The sounds and fragrances swirl through the evening air) - The title is inspired by a poem by Charles Beaudelaire titled Harmonie Soir (Evening Harmony).  This preludes ends with a short coda that is marked by the composer 'as a far away horn call'.

5)  Les collines d'Anacapri (The hills of Anacapri) - Anacapri is a small village on the Isle of Capri in the Gulf of Naples off the Italian coast. Debussy begins the prelude slowly until it erupts in an Italian dance, the tarantella. The dance is interrupted by a folk song like melody in the middle section. The dance returns and leads to a glittering ending in the extreme treble of the keyboard which is marked lumineux (luminous).

6)  Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the snow) - A bleak landscape of snow and cold is represented as a persistent motive is repeated.  Debussy gives the direction that 'the tempo must be such that it sounds like a sad, icy landscape'.  There is little relief from the cold atmosphere in this prelude that is a challenge for the pianist to bring off with Debussy's intended effect.

7)  Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest (What the west wind has seen) -  The subtle colors of the preceeding preludes are swept away by this depiction of a violent wind that roars off the coast of France during a storm at sea.

8)  La fille aux cheveux de lin (The girl with the flaxen hair) - One of the most often played preludes, this gentle music is in stark contrast to the preceding violent one. Gentle chords surround Debussy's original melody that sounds like a folk song.

9)  La sérénade interrompue (The interrupted serenade) - Debussy continues the French love of Spanish music in this prelude that depicts a Spanish guitarist that tries to serenade his sweetheart. Is the father the one that slams the window to shut out the serenade, or the beloved? No matter, the serenader finally gives up and wanders off.

10) La Cathédrale engloutie (The engulfed cathedral) - Another of the most popular preludes, this is a representation of the legend of the cathedral of the ancient city of Ys in Brittany that sank to the bottom of the ocean when the city was swallowed by the sea. Once every hundred years the cathedral rises out of the ocean to the tolling of its bells and the chanting of monks. It then sinks back into the sea.  With thunderous chords in the middle section, Debussy has the piano do a credible impression of pipe organ sonority. Widely-spaced chords (including six-note chords to be played by the five fingers of the right hand) add to the mysterious nature of the legend before the cathedral slips back under the water.

11) La danse de Puck (Puck's dance) - A representation of the mischievous Puck from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

12) Minstrels - Traveling minstrel shows appeared in Europe around the turn of the 20th century and were very popular. European composers were influenced by ragtime and early jazz music. Debussy's creative imagination attracted him to different kinds of music and art, and led to this witty representation of the banjo and minstrel music.


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