Claude Debussy

Ariettes oubliées (6), song cycle for voice & piano, L. 60

    Description by James Reel

    These settings of some of the best-known poems of Paul Verlaine mark Debussy's transition from a traditional composer in the style of Gounod to a more individual artist, although here the operative word is "individual" rather than "original": the young Debussy, in sauntering away from his French idols, is hooking his arm into that of Richard Wagner. The music is highly chromatic and tonally ambiguous, traits that Debussy would make his own in the next few years. Also, Debussy begins to make heavy use of the dominant ninth chord, one of his later trademarks; indeed, the very beginning of the first song is a series of falling ninths.

    Debussy set Verlaine's poetry 19 times through his career; the texts are rich in long, lazy vowels and seductively repetitive consonants. The first item in Ariettes oubliées is typical of Verlaine's work and a highly adept musical setting by Debussy: the gauzy, floating melodic line perfectly reflects the text of C'est l'extase langoureuse, in all its languorous ecstasy. Next is Il pleure dans mon coeur, with the piano accompanying the long vocal lines with what would become Debussy's typical "raindrop" music; the singer notes that it rains in her heart as it rains in the town, but can't understand the source of her sadness. "It's pain's darkest state/not to know why/without love, without hate/my heart feels such weight."

    The third song is L'ombre des arbes (The Shadows of the Trees), another doleful piece in which the singer's state of mind reflects (rather than is reflected by) a sad, solemn landscape. Everything brightens significantly with Chevaux de bois, initially celebrating the energy of merry-go-round horses turning in their circular route, although midway through the mood changes to sadness and wistfulness, reflecting the knowledge that these are not living creatures.

    The last two songs are "Green" and "Spleen" -- the titles are in English, because Verlaine liked their sound. Debussy, following Verlaine, referred to this pair of songs as aquarelles, and the music does have a light, wispy, watercolor character. "Green" is a love song that begins with offerings from nature (fruits, flowers, leaves in the trees) and ends with a falling into slumber. "Spleen" is a song of despair -- the sky is too blue, the sea too green, all because the loved one has done something "atrocious." The vocal line becomes intentionally monotonous, and the music fades away, listlessly.


    1. C'est l'extase
    2. Il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville
    3. L'ombre des arbes dans la rivière embrumée
    4. Paysages belges. Chevaux de bois: Tournez, tournez, bons chevaux
    5. Green (Aquarelles 1)
    6. Spleen (Aquarelles 2)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Hungaroton HCD 3280304
    2016 BIS BIS 2233
    2016 Genuin GEN 16430
    2016 Decca 4789679
    2016 Sony Classical 88875183412
    2016 Decca
    2015 Skarbo DSK 2152
    2014 Ligia
    2013 Newton Classics 8802211
    2013 Wigmore Hall Live WHLCD 0062
    2012 Anima Records ANM 90900001
    2012 Hyperion CDA 67883
    2012 Naïve V 5311
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4790056
    2011 BD Jazz / Zebralution
    2011 Documents 232867
    2011 Bridge BRIDGE 9356
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099962936
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Preiser Records 93458
    2010 Albany Music Distribution 1221
    2005 Claves 2410
    2003 Naïve V 4932
    2003 Testament 1289
    2003 Hungaroton 32106
    2003 ECM 000019202
    2003 Black Box Classics BBM1073
    2001 Decca 467 909-2DSR
    1999 Cypres 1613
    1999 Malibran Music 101
    1997 Sony Classical 67190
    1997 Philips 446656
    1996 Centaur Records CRC2220
    1995 RCA 902662711
    1993 EMI Music Distribution 47888
    1992 EMI Music Distribution 64095
    1992 BMG 60899
    Phaedra 292003
    Deutsche Grammophon 437784
    Deutsche Grammophon 000303202
    Ades 20268
    Lys 169/170
    Rca Red Seal 987202
    GM Recordings 2029
    University of North Texas