Friday, April 16, 2010

Sunday Classics preview: Debussy -- the man who heard the music in moonlight


David Oistrakh plays "Clair de lune" ("Moonlight") with trusted accompanist Frida Bauer in Paris, 1962.

by Ken

So you think you don't know from Claude Debussy (1862-1918)? Here are three little pieces, originally written for piano solo, that have been absorbed into the general culture, arranged for just about every imaginable performance situation.

(1) "Clair de lune" ("Moonlight")

arranged (again) for violin and piano

Jascha Heiftez, violin; Emanuel Bey, piano (arr. Roelens).
American Decca/MCA, recorded Nov. 29, 1945

arranged for guitar

Angel Romero, arr. and guitar. Telarc, recorded Aug. 3-6, 1987

played on the organ of New York City's Riverside Church

Virgil Fox, organ of the Riverside Church (New York City). Capitol/EMI, recorded Oct. 4, 1960

(2) "La Fille aux cheveux de lin"
("The Girl With the Flaxen Hair")

arranged for violin and piano

Jascha Heifetz, violin; Isidor Achron, piano (arr. Hartmann). RCA/BMG, recorded Dec. 29, 1926

violin arrangement played an octave lower on the cello

János Starker, cello; Shigeo Neriki, piano (arr. Roques). Denon, recorded June 20, 1978

played by a jazz trio

Jacques Loussier Trio. Telarc, recorded c1999

(3) "Golliwogg's Cake-walk"

orchestrated by André Caplet

Orchestre National de l'ORTF, Jean Martinon, cond. EMI, recorded 1973-74

arranged for violin and piano

Jascha Heifetz, arr. and violin; Emanuel Bey, piano. American Decca/MCA, recorded Nov. 29, 1945

played by a saxophone ensemble

UNCW (University of North Carolina, Wilmington) Saxophone Ensemble. Recorded Apr. 17, 2007


In case it doesn't go without saying, I take some of the above renderings more seriously than others -- Angel Romero's guitar "Clair de lune," for example, seems to me a notably beautiful piece of work, which takes on a life of its own. Still, while you're obviously free to disagree, for me in all three cases the music really comes to life, and enters the realm of the magical, in the piano originals. This quintessentially French music is played for us by three wonderful and wonderfully different pianists, none of them exactly French, who made first-rate recordings of the complete piano works of Debussy.

Hungarian-born Peter Frankl (born 1935) was about 26 but already a remarkably polished artist when he recorded all the Debussy piano works (and a great deal of other music) for Vox; he has graced the faculty of the Yale School of Music since 1987 [at left he is, shall we say, no longer 26]. The great German pianist Walter Gieseking (1896-1956) was actually born in France, and must have absorbed enough of the ambience in his family's travels to explain his remarkable affinity for the piano works of Debussy and Ravel, both of which he recorded complete. The Italian-born Aldo Ciccolini (born 1925), one of the warmest and user-friendliest pianists I know, has been a French citizen since 1969 -- from the '60s onward he played a key role in the revival of interest in the sometimes soulful, often impudent music of Erik Satie.

DEBUSSY: Suite bergamasque:
No. 3, "Clair de lune" ("Moonlight")

Peter Frankl, piano. Vox, recorded c1962

Walter Gieseking, piano. EMI, recorded Aug. 17-18, 1953

Aldo Ciccolini, piano. EMI, recorded Apr. 11-19, 1991

DEBUSSY: Preludes for Piano, Book I:
No. 8, "La Fille aux cheveux de lin"
("The Girl With the Flaxen Hair")

Peter Frankl, piano. Vox, recorded c1962

Walter Gieseking, piano. EMI, recorded Aug. 15-16, 1953

Aldo Ciccolini, piano. EMI, recorded Ap. 11-19, 1991

DEBUSSY: Children's Corner Suite:
No. 6, Golliwogg's Cake-walk

Peter Frankl, piano. Vox, recorded c1962

Walter Gieseking, piano. EMI, recorded Sept. 26-27, 1951

Aldo Ciccolini, piano. EMI, recorded Apr. 11-19, 1991


Tomorrow night we look into the question of audible evolution in Debussy's musical imagining, with the solo-flute "Syrinx" and a flute-and-piano version of the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, including a tribute to one of the great flutists and flute teachers, Julius Baker, and maybe a surprise or two along the way. In Sunday's post we hear the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune in proper orchestral garb and travel the distance from the Saxophone Rhapsody to La Mer.


Roaming the landscape (and seascape!) of the imagination -- the full orchestral splendor of Debussy (4/18/2010)
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and Saxophone Rhapsody (cond. Martinon, Masur), La Mer (cond. Boulez, Rosenthal, Martinon, Masur), Three Nocturnes (cond. Plasson)
Preview 1: Debussy -- the man who heard the music in moonlight (4/16/2010)
In various arrangements as well as the piano originals: "Clair de lune," "La Fille aux cheveux de lin" ("The Girl with the Flaxen Hair"), and "Golligwogg's Cake-walk"
Preview 2: Debussy from "Syrinx" to Afternoon of a Faun -- or is it vice versa? (4/17/2010)
Syrinx played by Paula Robison and Jean-Pierre Rampal (videos) and Julius Baker. Afternoon of a Faun conductred by Manuel Rosenthal
Preview: Mezzo Susan Graham shares her favorite Debussy: "Clair de lune"! (2/10/2012)
Played by Aldo Ciccolini, Peter Frankl, and Walter Gieseking, plus Virgil Fox (organ), Angel Romero (guitar), and Jascha Heifetz (violin)
More "impressions of Debussy" (2/12/2012)
A bevy of pianists play the first of the Two Arabesques, "Reflets dans l'eau" from Series 1 of the Images for Piano, and the prélude "La Cathédrale engloutie"; plus the last of the three Images for Orchestra, Rondes de printemps, is conducted by Manuel Rosenthal, Jean Martinon, and Charles Munch
Preview: More Debussy -- a quick entrée into one of the truly unique pieces in the musical literature (2/17/2012)
Act I, Scene 1 of Pelléas et Mélisande conducted by Ernest Ansermet (twice), Pierre Boulez, Claudio Abbado, and Herbert von Karajan
Still more "Impressions of Debussy" (2/19/2012)
Three performances of the Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp; Jeux conducted by Pierre Boulez, Manuel Rosenthal, and Jean Martinon; and an assortment of performances of the opening of the Tower Scene of Act III of Pelléas et Mélisande


The current list is here.

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At 6:22 AM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

Frankl's a fine musician who has never been in the spotlight. Few people know he was a student of the great Hungarian teacher, Leo Weiner, a contemporary and friend of Bartok and Kodaly. I've liked his work for years. Thanks for noting Frankl alongside the superstars!

At 10:20 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Yes, B, as I know you know, talent and musical achievement don't necessarily have much to do with who gets the "big" careers. I confess even I was a little surprised, on listening more carefully to those early Debussy recordings of Peter Frankl's, to find just how remarkable were, or rather are. I've already described him as a "wonderful" pianist, so I'll just add that I'll bet he's a terrific teacher too.

Thanks for filling in PF's background a little!


At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

The loveliest doctor waiting room and elevator music I have ever heard! Thanks.

Wow I hope you saved SOMETHING for Saturday Keni....flutes? No tubas or vibes? You know of course that Zappa could play a bicycle?

At 11:35 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

part 2 actually has more "music"...

At 6:05 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Hey, Bil, I sure wish I got to wait in those doctors' offices and ride in those elevators you do! What I usually here is crap.


At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

Very funny Keni,

The Clair de Lune is the elevator music...

I would be seriously concerned about any Drs off that was playing Zappa, unless perhaps they were qualifying you for medicinal marijuana, that might fit.

Thanks for all your work on this stuff, really. You must have a lot of interns:)


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