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Classical Notes

It bears repeating

Posted at 2:04 AM on March 1, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: Claude Debussy, Musical philosophy

Recently, a friend approached me with a request. He said he�d become obsessed with Debussy�s Claire de Lune, had been working his way through all the recordings of it he could find�and could I recommend my own favorites?

I threw the question out to my colleagues at MPR and got some lovely responses. Rex Levang and Brian Newhouse suggested Ivan Moravec (unfortunately, hard to find), and Melissa Ousley chimed in with Zoltan Kocsis and Samson Francois. Rex also mentioned that the recent Leon Fleischer recording (which marked his return to 2-hand repertoire after a forty-year struggle with focal dystonia in his right hand) was pretty special. Michael Barone added that organist Virgil Fox�s �organization� of Claire de Lune is beautifully nuanced.

This conversation led Brian to ask: why ARE there so many versions of this piece? What is it about Claire de Lune - or any piece - that inspires such attentions?

And, tangentially, what does it say when the same performer RE-records something? I�m thinking of Yo Yo Ma�s releases (1990 and 1998) of the Bach suites, but there are many other examples.

Anyone care to weigh in?

Comments (1)

Ivan Moravec whom you cited above, had this to say about the special qualities of the piece and Debussy's music in general (he was speaking in English, not his native language):

"Debussy was really my first great love, through Children's Corner, which was one of the first pieces which I studied very carefully. I remember hours which I have given the part which is called "Snow is Dancing," which is a fascinating piece. It shows some very strange and beautiful characteristics of Debussy's music.

There is a sort of very steady, rhythmical pulsation of the snow falling, you know. And yet when you play it, you try to play it absolutely evenly, in a long, beautiful sound. But it's a paradox: that through exact rhythm, you have finally the feeling that time does not exist. This was something which amazed me in some of Debussy's music.

This is of course sometimes the hardest task for interpreter - to be rhythmically correct, and yet not to lose the melody and the space.

And space in Debussy's music is again another phenomenon, you know. As you said, it's very hard to speak about very subtle things in terms of words. But I always perceived two strange new things in Debussy's music, and that was something which has happened with time while listening to Debussy's music, and with space.

For example, even such a small piece of music like Clair de lune evokes an imagination of a tremendous space. And of time which is like to be stopped. No time! If you give to the long notes enough time, then the perception of the piece is really something quite exceptional. And this caught me as a child. At that time I wouldn't be able to put it even in those poor words as I did now."

Posted by Denis | August 27, 2006 3:34 PM