Sound of Charlotte Blog

NOTES OF DEBUSSY, RAVEL AND FAURÉ

Four pieces are on the program for this first weekend in April. Read more to learn about these selections!

CLAUDE DEBUSSY PRÉLUDE À "L'APRÈS-MIDI D'UN FAUNE"

 The first performance of Prélude à "L'après-midi d'un faune" took place in Paris at the Salle d'Harcourt on December 22, 1894, with Gustave Doret conducting the Société Nationale de Musique.
The first performance of this work by the Charlotte Symphony took place on February 15, 1949 with Lamar Stringfield conducting at Armory Auditorium. The fourteenth and most recent performance set took place on November 11, 13, 14, 2010 with Christopher Warren-Green conducting on the campuses of Central Piedmont Community College, University of North Carolina-Charlotte and Johnson C. Smith University.

According to Pierre Boulez: "modern music was awakened by L'après-midi d'un faune." Other pioneering works, such as Ludwig van Beethoven's Eroica Symphony (1803), Giuseppe Verdi's Nabucco (1842), and Igor Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps (1913) stunned the music world with their overwhelming power, energy and dissonance. Debussy, on the other hand, chose to wake his listeners in a far more seductive and beguiling fashion, with elusive tonalities and rhythms couched in the most exquisite orchestral sonorities.

Debussy's most famous orchestral work was inspired by Stéphane Mallarmé's poem, the genesis of which dates as far back as 1865. L'après-midi d'un faunerelates the tale of a faun's erotic (and unrequited) fascination with a pair of nymphs. Mallarmé conceived The Afternoon of a Faun as a monologue to be recited on stage by an actor.

Debussy described his Prelude to "The Afternoon of a Faun" as "a very free interpretation of Mallarmé's poem. It has no pretensions of presenting a synthesis of the poem. It is rather a series of scenes against which the desires and dreams of the Faun are seen to stir in the afternoon heat." In an October 10, 1896 letter to music critic Henri Gauthier-Villars, Debussy observed:
More precisely, the work conveys the general impression of the poem...it follows the ascendant movement of the poem and illustrates the scene marvelously described in the text. The close is a prolongation of the last line:
"Couple adieu! Je vais voir l'ombre que tu deviens." ("Farewell, couple! I go to see the shadow that you have become.")
 
MAURICE RAVEL PIANO CONCERTO IN G MAJOR

The first performance of the G-Major Piano Concerto took place at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on January 14, 1932, with Marguerite Long as soloist, and the composer conducting the Lamoureux Orchestra.
The first performance set of this work by the Charlotte Symphony took place on March 22-23, 1972 with Jacques Brourman conducting at Ovens Auditorium and Wingate University. The sixth and most recent performance took place on May 4, 2012 with Christopher Warren-Green conducting at the Knight Theater.

In an interview, Ravel acknowledged that the jazz he enjoyed in the United States influenced the G-major Concerto. "What is being written today without the influence of jazz?", Ravel queried. "It is not the only influence, however; in the concerto one also finds bass accompaniments from the time of Bach, a melody that recalls Mozart, the Mozart of the Clarinet Quintet, which by the way is the most beautiful piece he wrote." Of course, the success of the G-major Concerto is the product of Ravel's remarkable ability to synthesize these various and potentially disparate influences into an engaging, unified and individual work.

The Concerto in G Major is in three movements. The first movement(Allegramente) opens with the soloist accompanying a vivacious piccolo melody, apparently based upon a Basque folk tune. Ravel introduces several additional themes, notably a descending blues passage. The inspiration for the Concerto's slow second movement (Adagio assai) was its counterpart in Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, K. 581 (1789). The virtuoso finale (Presto) is the Concerto's most overtly jazz-influenced movement.

GABRIEL FAURÉ PAVANE, OPUS 50
The first performance of this work by the Charlotte Symphony took place on February 28, 1956 with James Christian Pfohl conducting at Ovens Auditorium.
The fifth and most recent performance took place on January 25, 2013 with Jacomo Bairos conducting at the Knight Theater.

The Pavane, one of the most popular works by French composer Gabriel Fauré, exists in two versions. Fauré originally composed the piece in a purely orchestral version. Later, at the request of his patroness, the Countess Elisabeth Greffulhe, Fauré created another version of the Pavane for orchestra and chorus.
The pavane originated in the 16th and 17th centuries as a tranquil court dance, usually in duple meter. The plucked strings that accompany the famous central melody in the Fauré Pavane might serve to evoke a lute from those earlier times. The introduction and varied reprise of the haunting melody frame a more turbulent central episode. Throughout, the Fauré Pavane is notable for its lyricism and rich, transparent orchestration.

CLAUDE DEBUSSY LA MER, THREE SYMPHONIC SKETCHES
The first performance of La mer took place in Paris at the Concerts Lamoureux on October 15, 1905, with Camille Chevillard conducting.

The first performances of this work by the Charlotte Symphony took place on November 1 & 2, 1972 with Jacques Brourman conducting at Ovens Auditorium and PfeifferCollege. The fifth and most recent performance set of this work took place on March 21 & 22, 2003 with Christof Perick conducting in the Belk Theater of the Blumenthal Performing ArtsCenter.

The first mention of Claude Debussy's Impressionist masterpiece, La mer, occurs in a September 12, 1903 letter. Debussy informed composer André Messager: "I am working on three symphonic sketches under the title La mer: Mer belle aux Iles Sanguinaires; Jeux de vagues; and Le Vent fait danser la mer." (Debussy later changed the titles of the outer movements.)

The premiere of La mer took place in Paris on October 15, 1905 at the Concerts Lamoureux, with Camille Chevillard conducting. While critical reaction varied, most recognized the importance of La mer in the development of French musical expression. Debussy himself penned revisions to the score in 1909, although some conductors and orchestras continue to perform the 1905 version. Regardless, Debussy's La mer is a brilliant musical product of the composer's lifelong fascination with the sea and its infinite mysteries. Debussy's La mer, like its subject, continues to elude description, all the while exerting a powerful attraction.

La mer is in three movements. The first, De l'aube à midi sur la mer (From Dawn until Noon on the Sea), journeys from a slow, mysterious introduction to the grand concluding section, depicting the magnificence of the sea, glistening in the noonday sun. The second movement, Jeux de vagues (Play of the Waves) serves as La mer's vibrant scherzo. The final movement, Dialogue du vent et de la mer (Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea), opens in ominous fashion, but culminates in a powerful resolution.

Program notes by Ken Meltzer.

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