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Thread: Claude Debussy

  1. #226
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    @Josquin, I was going to say Abbado but the snippets I heard seemed to be in pretty rough shape, recorded-sound wise. Perhaps the uploader compressed the music too severely, but it reminded me of the Abbado/Vienna Wozzeck which is in similarly poor audio, so perhaps it's just bad engineering...? Curious what you think of the sound on that one.

    Going to also check out the Boulez offerings, a conductor I can usually trust.

    Personally, I liked the Wagnerian affectation of the Karajan Pelléas that I heard. Debussy may have said that about Wagner being a sunset etc. but I believe he was much more inspired by him than he let on. Having studied several of his scores, he probably learned everything he knew about opera from Wagner. That being said, of course, he brought other influences to the table and that is what makes him one of the greats, not slavish devotion to Wagner.

    In any case, I wouldn't quite call the interpretation wrong-headed, even if it's not to one's taste. Personally speaking. But of course this is far from the only way to perform the music. I'd love to hear some of the classic French recordings (I'm especially a fan of Cluytens), but they seem to be difficult to find on CD.
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Jun-07-2019 at 11:24.

  2. #227
    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    I put the "applause" in because the bell riging with Richter's footsteps is a major part of the thrill. 1967!!!!


    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jun-07-2019 at 18:41.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
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    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

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  4. #228
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I put the "applause" in because the bell riging with Richter's footsteps is a major part of the thrill. 1967!!!!


    I must get this CD....

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    This was the original LP cover.

    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

  6. #230
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Who are some good young Debussy pianists? Most of the great ones are dead or really old. I know Seong Jin Cho, young winner of the 2015 Chopin competition, has recorded some Debussy. I’ve not heard it, but his Chopin is halfway decent.

    Outside of him, who else is even recording Debussy these days? I’m really trying to get up on young, living musicians.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    Who are some good young Debussy pianists? Most of the great ones are dead or really old. I know Seong Jin Cho, young winner of the 2015 Chopin competition, has recorded some Debussy. I’ve not heard it, but his Chopin is halfway decent.

    Outside of him, who else is even recording Debussy these days? I’m really trying to get up on young, living musicians.
    Mariangela Vacatello, Élodie Vignon, Roland Pontinen, Hiroko Sasaki
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jun-12-2019 at 14:05.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Nice, I’m not familiar with any of them. I’ll have to give them a listen.

  9. #233
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    @MillionRainbiws, I got that Richter CD. Excellent Debussy (and Schumann for that matter).

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  11. #234
    Senior Member Janspe's Avatar
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    flamencosketches, I know you asked for young performers so apologies for offering something a bit older but...

    ...Uchida's Debussy études are to die for. Don't know if you've heard them yet but if you haven't, you're in for a treat. It's one of those recordings that one simply has to hear.

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  13. #235
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Janspe View Post
    flamencosketches, I know you asked for young performers so apologies for offering something a bit older but...

    ...Uchida's Debussy études are to die for. Don't know if you've heard them yet but if you haven't, you're in for a treat. It's one of those recordings that one simply has to hear.
    I have! Funny, I just got done writing a post about Mitsuko’s Debussy Études in the current listening thread. She is phenomenal with these.
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Jun-12-2019 at 17:18.

  14. #236
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    She's good, very good. But Mariangela Vacatello is very gooder. And Roland Pontinen isn't chopped liver either.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jun-12-2019 at 18:00.

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  16. #237
    Senior Member Pat Fairlea's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    She's good, very good. But Mariangela Vacatello is very gooder. And Roland Pontinen isn't chopped liver either.
    I'll put in a vote for Pontinen, too. And Mitsuko Uchida playing almost anything that requires precision of touch.

  17. #238
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    She's good, very good. But Mariangela Vacatello is very gooder. And Roland Pontinen isn't chopped liver either.
    Does she have CDs for sale, etc? I can't seem to find much other than live videos from competitions. I'll have to check out some of these.

    Edit: Disregard that, I found something. I was listening to her Debussy études on the Brilliant Classics youtube page. Not bad, but I definitely like Uchida much better. But I'll keep her on my radar.
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Jun-13-2019 at 02:34.

  18. #239
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    flamencosketches writes, "@Josquin, I was going to say Abbado but the snippets I heard seemed to be in pretty rough shape, recorded-sound wise. Perhaps the uploader compressed the music too severely, but it reminded me of the Abbado/Vienna Wozzeck which is in similarly poor audio, so perhaps it's just bad engineering...? Curious what you think of the sound on that one. "

    I don't recall the sound quality being "bad" on Abbado's recording. I thought it was fine, but I wouldn't consider it top audiophile quality, either. I agree with you that You Tube isn't always the best place to gauge sound quality, as I've heard excellent recordings that didn't sound nearly as good on You Tube, and vice versa. I should point out that Abbado was a fine Debussy conductor (if not always very French sounding), but he recorded Pélleas with the Vienna Philharmonic, & that's not an orchestra whose sound is generally associated with French music, or Debussy. So that may be a bit of a negative.

    flamencosketches writes, "Going to also check out the Boulez offerings, a conductor I can usually trust."

    What I like about Boulez's conducting is the textural clarity that he brings to scores. With Boulez, you hear the whole score. What I dislike about his conducting is his occasional lack rhythmic verve, as Boulez doesn't always 'dance' as expressively as the music requires, which can diminish his full range of orchestral colors. I also think that Boulez could be too objective in his conducting at times, and maybe the two go together. However, Boulez was usually first rate in Debussy. Lately, I've especially liked his Jeux on DG, for instance, which is a difficult work to conduct well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhbfgHT42QM. (By the way, you might be interested to know that Boulez was also the only scholar/musician to compile a performing edition of Debussy's Le Martyre de Sans Sebastien that includes every note Debussy composed for D'Annunzio's five-act play. Regrettably, Boulez never recorded his final edition of Le Martyre, as far as I know, but conductor Thierry Fischer did, with the BBC Welsh S.O., and it was once offered as a BBC magazine monthly CD--which can still be found on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Martyrdom-S...s=music&sr=1-3 )

    flamencosketches writes, "Personally, I liked the Wagnerian affectation of the Karajan Pelléas that I heard. Debussy may have said that about Wagner being a sunset etc. but I believe he was much more inspired by him than he let on. Having studied several of his scores, he probably learned everything he knew about opera from Wagner. That being said, of course, he brought other influences to the table and that is what makes him one of the greats, not slavish devotion to Wagner.

    In any case, I wouldn't quite call the interpretation wrong-headed, even if it's not to one's taste. Personally speaking. But of course this is far from the only way to perform the music. I'd love to hear some of the classic French recordings (I'm especially a fan of Cluytens), but they seem to be difficult to find on CD."

    Well, I partly disagree. I don't think it's entirely a matter of taste or opinion--although there are plenty of Karajan fans out there that think he was idiomatic in everything that he conducted. I don't, and certainly not across the board. In regards to Pélleas, as mentioned, I don't hear it as a distinctly Wagner influenced opera. That's not what Erik Satie called for, and at that stage in his career, Debussy was more under Satie's influence than Wagner's. Nor do the best French conductors interpret the score as Wagnerian, either, but rather as a strangely exotic and orientalist early modern opera. I'm not saying that there aren't traces of Wagner in the opera or any merits to Karajan's reading--on its own terms it's good, but I do think that Karajan's view of Debussy is misconceived, especially in relation to those conductors that had ties back to Debussy and his musical world.

    I hear a much stronger Wagner influence in Ernest Chausson's orchestral music, than in Debussy. Have you heard Chausson's opera, Le roi Arthus? That seems to me to be considerably more under Wagner's spell than Pélleas. So too is Chausson's Symphony in B flat major, and probably even more so than his Arthurian opera:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=or_9Wq-lo-Q
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bM3deZ3U9io

    In those two works, I believe we can see clearly what exactly Satie was reacting against (and rightfully so), when he made his rallying cry to French composers to stop copying Wagner (as Chausson had done). I also think that Debussy took Satie's battle cry seriously. Again, I'm not saying that there aren't Wagnerian influences in Pélleas, as there are, but it's more subtle than with Chausson--where Wagner-like passages jump out at you, and I find myself thinking, "Did he lift that phrase directly from Tristan?".

    I agree that Debussy was eclectic in his influences, and that in his early formative years he was deeply impressed by Wagner's music, and that it was an important influence on him (along with Palestrina, Chopin & Liszt). There's no question about that. But, at the same time, Debussy was one of the truly seminal bridges between the late Romantic era and the modern 20th century, and in that respect, he was totally right and prescient to see Wagner's music as a "beautiful sunset", since, if we omit Schoenberg, the coming modern era wouldn't emerge out of Wagner's music. Indeed, Wagner was not a "beautiful dawn" as many had thought at the time, according to Debussy, but rather a "beautiful sunset". While the actual "dawn" was Debussy's music. He, & not Wagner, changed the course of music in the early 20th century, & that transformation had already begun to take place when Debussy composed his Pélleas et Mélisande in 1901. In fact, I'd claim that it began as early as 1889-90. Whatever influence Wagner may have had on Debussy's compositional style up to that point, it began to dissipate with Debussy's 1890 Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra--which isn't at all Wagnerian, but rather marks the beginning of Debussy's early modern style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEUMAl-dHk4 ). And, from thereon the influence became increasingly less so, as Debussy grew into his mature period, culminating with his Trois Nocturnes, La Mer, Jeux, and Khamma (orchestrally speaking).

    Bearing that in mind, I think listeners tend to drastically underestimate the most vitally important influence on Debussy as a composer between 1890 and 1918, and that was his experience listening to Javanese Gamelan music. In 1900, Debussy had, for the second time in his life (or possibly third), attended performances of Javanese Gamelan music at the Paris Exposition Universelle (his first experience coming in 1889, or possibly as early as 1887). At that time, in 1900, Debussy finally heard a much larger Gamelan orchestra than he had in 1889, and that experience was a revelation to him. Here is what Debussy had to say about Gamelan music in a 1913 article that he wrote:

    "There used to be--indeed, despite the troubles that civilization has brought, there still are--some wonderful peoples who learn music as easily as one learns to breathe. Their school consists of the eternal rhythm of the sea, the wind in the leaves, and a thousand other tiny noises, which they listen to with great care, without ever having consulted any of those dubious treatises. Their traditions are preserved only in ancient songs, sometimes involving dance, to which each individual adds his own contribution century by century. Thus Javanese music obeys laws of counterpoint which make Palestrina seem like child's play. And if one listens to it without being prejudiced by one's European ears, one will find a percussive charm that forces one to admit that our own music is not much more than a barbarous kind of noise more fit for a traveling circus."* (* Taken from "Debussy on Music", translated by Richard Langham Smith, page 22.)

    In other words, what had impressed Debussy so profoundly about Gamelan music was that it was created by listening "with great care" to nature and the eternal order of the world and cosmos. He saw Gamelan music as deriving from "the eternal rhythm of the sea, the wind in the leaves, and a thousand tiny noises..." This new, profound revelation--that music could directly stem from the cyclical and percussive rhythms of nature and the cosmos, as opposed to some "dubious" western musical treatise--had a profound effect on Debussy's compositional style thereafter, and would become a core part of his changing musical aesthetic. I admit that the Gamelan influence may be more evident in Debussy's piano music (as the piano is a suitably percussive instrument), but the revelation that Debussy experienced while listening to Gamelan music radically changed how he saw music, and that transformation is an integral part of most of his subsequent works thereafter. Again, it didn't begin in 1900, but rather after Debussy's first experience with Gamelan music in 1889, and from that point on the influence grew dramatically, as Debussy developed it into his own unique musical language.

    After hearing Gamelan music in 1889, Debussy indeed became less and less interested in following western rules, which he'd never been comfortable with, starting with how obstinate he was towards his composition professors at the Conservatoire de Paris and their disapproval of his innovative thinking, and later as indicated by Debussy's description of western musical treatises as "dubious" and his characterization of European music (which included Wagner & the German Romantic tradition) as "not much more than a barbarous kind of noise more fit for a traveling circus"--in comparison to Gamelan music. That shouldn't be underestimated or ignored, and especially by conductors of Debussy's music. Pélleas should therefore--to a strong degree--sound like an exotic, orientalist, and distinctly Eastern-influenced opera, and not be so integrally connected to Wagner & the German musical tradition, which it was composed in a direct reaction against. In addition, Pélleas should sound radical and rebellious for its time (which it was), especially considering Debussy's use of eastern rhythms & distinct Gamelan-like sounds, which some conductors see more clearly than others.

    If anyone's interested, the post-Gamelan Debussy can be heard in the following works: (1) the Prelude: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfxPXYXsTz0, & Sarabande: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t23kdDayv9E --from Debussy's Pour le piano; (2) the Images oubliées No. 1 (1894): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFCMPmRlMyo; (3) the unusual use of rhythms in Pagodes from Debussy's Estampes, as mentioned, which are distinctly non-western: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bc9zjQk7Peo); (4) I'Isle joyeuse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxgGIemzeps; and (5) the Fantasie for piano and orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QL229mWK9lg. While Debussy's new Gamelan charged aesthetic can be heard in many other works, too--such as (6) in the sounds of water droplets in one section of Reflets dans l'eau, from his Images Book 1 (which very few pianists recognize in the score, but among those that do are Michelangeli, Moravec, & Kocsis): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5400ApOgHE, (7) in the sounds of the wind and crashing waves in La Mer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AS--_CwF9ZI, (8) in the view of clouds moving across a night sky in Nuages: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spXwXLqFLvs from Debussy's Nocturnes, and (9) in his unusual ballet, Jeux. In these works, Debussy had similarly listened "with great care" to the sounds of the natural world, and connected his compositional style to the eternal, cyclical rhythms of nature. One can also link Debussy's new aesthetic to later 20th century composers, as well--such as Oliver Messiaen, who spent many hours in nature carefully listening to bird songs & their rhythms, which he would notate into his sketchbooks, and use for his solo piano music and mélodies, etc..

    For those that listened to Debussy's post-Gamelan works above, I'd suggest that you now listen to how one of the French conductors conducts Pélleas--such as Roger Désormière, for example, if so inclined. With fresh ears, I expect you'll now hear the dominant Eastern influence in Pélleas, which Desormiére brings out by his recognition of the many unmistakeable Gamelan-like sounds in Debussy's orchestral score. The influence can also be heard in Debussy's use of Gamelan-like rhythms throughout the opera, & especially in the more rapid & percussive exchanges of dialogue, such as in the following examples:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2F3oraqV-E
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRbzp_4WZM4

    To my ears that is miles away from Wagner.

    Again, I'm not denying that there are Wagnerian influences in Pélleas et Mélisande. I just think that the French conductors are more attuned to the predominantly non-Wagnerian aspects of the score, and therefore, their conducting is more idiomatic & attentive to Debussy's score than Karajan's. Indeed, there's a whole world of difference between Charles Dutoit's interpretation of Pélleas and Karajan's, for instance, & I hear little, if any Wagner in Dutoit's understanding of the score:

    Dutoit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4XQc00dcas

    Nor do I hear much of Wagner in Boulez's understanding of the opera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdNcaWLDr2o

    Nor in Désormière's conducting, either--who, possibly more than any other French conductor sounds like he's listened carefully to Gamelan music, and understands the close parallels that exist between its many sounds and rhythms and Debussy's score. For me, this Javanese connection can be heard in the way that Désormière conducts Pélleas right from the start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiTilJm143w. Yet, it isn't as clear in the way that Cluytens conducts the opening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKyh2lIZYjk. In comparison, Karajan's conducting sounds more plain, and not especially exotic or orientalist, or even eastern-influenced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mNQbH4BVQY. So yes, I'd say that's wrongheaded or misconceived.

    But obviously I agree that you should try to hear one or more of the French conductors in this music, such as Baudo, Boulez, or Dutoit in the modern era, or, most especially, the earlier French conductors with a direct connection back to Debussy's world, such as Désormière, Inghelbrecht, & Ansermet, or, to a lesser extent, Cluytens and Fournet (& Rosenthal too, if a live Pélleas recording were to ever surface, as Rosenthal did conduct stage performances of the opera in Russia, where he premiered Pélleas, & in South America: so there may actually be a radio broadcast languishing in some vault in one of those places...).

    Of course, you don't have to agree with me... there are plenty of people out there that like the Karajan recording. But I think that I've made some valid points above, nevertheless.

    P.S. Oh yes, and you should definitely try to hear some Gamelan music too!, in order to have a point of reference for its many exotic sounds & rhythms, and to gain a better understanding of what Debussy was actually listening to, and using to create his own musical language and aesthetic, as he moved into the 20th century. Here are some examples that I found on You Tube:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxeJxAUlhxA
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEWCCSuHsuQ
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3HwqqiVxbE
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4NvCnhfxyY
    Last edited by Josquin13; Jun-14-2019 at 22:05.

  19. #240
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    I'm going to hold off on commenting further until I hear the full work, but I want you to know that your words are not going unheard, and that I've read your whole post and reflected on much of what you've said (including listening to the provided examples). I just bought a copy and I'm waiting on it in the mail (fret not, it's not Karajan I decided to go with Abbado/Vienna, in lieu of a French conductor–why do they seem to be so much more expensive/hard to find? It seems none of the classics you mentioned are in print). I intend to check out more interpretations down the road, one I'm particularly interested in is the Ansermet 1964.

    I appreciate your passion for Debussy and your effort in trying to get one new listener to understand his music better. You're a gentleman and a scholar I intend to respond in the future with a post similar to yours in scope because there was much I agreed with in your post and much I didn't quite agree with, but until I hear the full work, I would be wasting your time in engaging you further in this discussion.

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