Claude Debussy

Sonata for violin & piano, L. 140

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Debussy's Sonata for violin and piano, third in a projected series of six chamber sonatas, was the last work the composer completed before his death in 1918. Progress on the sonata caused Debussy a great deal of frustration; in the end, he felt that it never really came together the way he had originally intended. Nevertheless, the work remains a powerful, forward-looking effort that manages to fuse elements of mainstream concert tradition with a wholehearted affinity for gypsy violin playing.

    The sonata unfolds in three movements: Allegro vivo, Intermède (Fantasque et léger), and Finale (Très animé). A broadly melodic flavor informs the first movement, enough so that Debussy clearly felt no need to include the separate slow movement typical of traditional sonatas. Indeed, the extremely legato gestures, frequent hemiolas, and generally long note values belie the movement's Allegro vivo indication, which, rather than reflecting the surface detail of the music, seems calculated to prompt the performers to provide a constant undercurrent of urgency. More active are the piano's arpeggio figurations as the music moves through several keys in preparation for the reprise of the opening material; even these, however, are marked pianissimo.

    Of the three movements the Intermède is the most "fantastic," moving with ease between music marked scherzando and that of a more improvisatory nature. A wonderful chromatic melody, marked "expressif et sans rigueur," enters midway through the movement and is repeated just before the return of the opening material (now recast in a fuller, less rhapsodic fashion). A burst of energy from the violin is quickly extinguished as the movement dies away into nothingness.

    Debussy had the most difficulty with the sonata's final movement. The opening theme of the first movement returns in the violin, accompanied by the piano in figuration that recalls the composer's Les estampes (1903). After this introductory gesture, the finale proper begins with an explosion of unaccompanied activity in the violin. This almost incessant stream of sixteenth notes is suspended on only a few occasions, each marking vital structural points; in one particuarly striking instance, the movement's main motive sounds pianissimo against a static, B flat major background. Unusually for Debussy, the work ends with a staunch fortissimo affirmation of the home key of G major.

    In his last few compositions Debussy began to move away from the kind of pictorial, sensual music that had driven his work for the previous 15 or 20 years. Indeed, the Sonata for violin and piano provides a glimpse of what purely abstract musical wonders the composer might have wrought had he not succumbed to cancer at the age of 55.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro vivo
    2. Intermède. Fantastique et léger
    3. Finale. Très animé

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4795964
    2016 Arcana A 392
    2016 Oehms Classics OC 1842
    2016 Sony Classical 88985320352
    2016 Sony Classical / Sony Music Distribution 88875183402
    2016 Warner Classics 555050
    2016 Warner Classics 555054
    2016 SWR Music SWR 19005CD
    2016 Onyx / Onyx Classics ONYX 4159
    2015 Music & Arts MACD 1282
    2015 Pentatone / Pentatone Classics / PentaTone Classics PTC 5186226
    2015 Ars Produktion ARS 38189
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4794708
    2014 Signum Classics SIGCD 376
    2014 Praga Digitals PRDDSD 250302
    2014 Brilliant Classics 94766
    2014 Equilibrium EQ 120
    2014 Ars Produktion ARS 38145
    2014 Cameo Classics CC 9001CD
    2013 CAvi-music AVI 8553295
    2013 Soundset SR 1045
    2013 Decca 4785437
    2013 CAG CAG 112
    2013 RCA Red Seal 8876544015
    2013 Naïve NC 40040
    2013 Nimbus NI 5905
    2013 Cantabel Productions CPSDA 002
    2013 RCA Red Seal / Sony Classical 88725462392
    2013 Cantabel Productions CPSDEP 01
    2012 Music & Arts MA 1260
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099970490
    2012 Marquis Records MAR 81427
    2012 Guild GMCD 7358
    2012 Indesens INDE 042
    2012 Bridge BRIDGE 9394
    2012 Fleur de Son FDS 58005
    2012 Fuga Libera FUG 597
    2012
    2012 Entertainment Group 107402
    2012 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4790056
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon / DG Deutsche Grammophon 002894779464
    2011 Yarlung Records YAR 05787
    2011 BD Jazz / Zebralution
    2011 Decca
    2011 Decca 478 225-6
    2011 Opus KURA OPK 2095
    2011 Avie 2216
    2011 Chandos CHAN10667
    2011 Supraphon SU 40752
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099908585820
    2011 Arbiter ARBITER 159
    2010 Decca 15249
    2010 Cembal d'amour 151
    2010 Decca
    2010 Gramola 98895
    2010 Centaur Ent. / Centaur Records 3009
    2010 IDIS 6591
    2010 Decca
    2010 Gall (formerly Gallo) / Gallo 1285
    2010 Orchid Classics 100001
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Musica Viva 1177
    2009 Live Classics 107
    2009 Oehms Classics 729
    2009 Music & Arts MACD1223
    2009 Ars Musici 232600
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926413
    2008 EMI Classics 217304
    2008 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4778050
    2008 UT3 Records / Zebralution
    2008 Blue Saphir 1033
    2008 Pavane / Pavane Records 7520
    2008 Saphir Productions 001008
    2008 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4775548
    2008 Naïve 5154
    2007 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4776627
    2007 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2007 Philips 4428299
    2007 Union Square Music 46
    2007 X5 Music Group 21289
    2007 Berlin Classics 0012822
    2006 Philips 4757460
    2006 Ambroisie 104
    2006 Naïve NV 5066
    2006 Neos Productions 90698
    2006 Edel Records 2842
    2006 Doremi Records 7874-9
    2006 Arte Nova 592330
    2006 Warner Classics 63263
    2006 Avanti Records 10232
    2005 EMI
    2005 Erato
    2005 Parlophone
    2005 Avie 2059
    2005 Brilliant 92539
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 85708
    2004 EMI Classics
    2004 Cascavelle 3068
    2004 Warner Classics / Warner Music 4617562
    2003 Avie AV0024
    2003 Calliope 3893/4
    2003 EMI
    2003 Decca 468496
    2003 Philips 000017902
    2002 Dynamic 393
    2002 Classica d'Oro 2020
    2002 Sony Classical 89699
    2002 Sony Classical 89699
    2002 Prodisc 27315
    2002 Simax 1216
    2002 BBC Music 4083
    2001 Parnassus Records 96028
    2001 Malibran Music 175
    2001 Virgin 59604
    2001 EMI Classics 569656
    2001 Hungaroton 12330
    2001 Cypres 9612
    2001 Cavalli 241
    2001 Supraphon 3547
    2000 Delos 3167
    2000 Arcana 303
    2000 Cembal d'amour 110
    2000 CBC Records 1138
    1999 Erato 64112
    1999 Berlin Classics 0091462
    1999 Nuova Era 7329
    1999 Cypres 9608
    1999 Angel Records 66872
    1999 Grave 8
    1999 Musica Viva 1060
    1998 One-Eleven 96010
    1998 Decca 4600062
    1998 Virgin 561427-2
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 73115
    1997 Calliope CAL9837
    1997 RCA 902661775
    1996 Sony Classical 67196
    1996 DG Deutsche Grammophon 445826
    1996 Edicions Albert Moraleda 129418
    1996 Russian Compact Disc (RCD) 16212
    1996 Sony Classical 64532
    1996 Sony Music Distribution 66839
    1995 Koch Schwann 315272
    1995 BIS 28
    1995 RCA 62697
    1995 DG Deutsche Grammophon 445880
    1995 Virgin 45122
    1995 Philips 446091
    1995 Decca / London 4443182
    1995 Bayer Records 200046
    1994 Symposium 1076
    1993 Denon Records 75625
    1993 Vanguard 8008
    1992 Naxos 550276
    1992 Chandos 8458
    1991 Virgin Classics
    1991 EMI Classics 63986
    1990 Pearl GEMMCD9348
    1990 Capitol 63493
    1989 EMI Music Distribution 763032
    1988 Decca
    1988 London 421154
    1985 Chandos 8385
    Vanguard 1583
    Dante 013
    Hungaroton 1232931
    Rca Red Seal 988362
    Crystal Records Dist. 835
    Decca 000444702
    Panton Records 0423
    Accord 205152
    Meridian Records 84284
    Virgin 562016-2
    REM 311109
    Biddulph Recordings 006
    Pavane 7280
    Lys 378
    DG Deutsche Grammophon 415683
    Amadeus 7017
    Denon Records 72718
    RCA 902661386
    Ars Produktion 368311
    Fleurs de Lys 3021
    Arion 68228
    Polskie Nagrania 055
    Fono Enterprise 99353
    Fono Enterprise 99391
    Music Memoria 30321
    Biddulph Recordings 070
    Adda 581103
    Eroica Distribution 3215
    Russian Revelation 10067
    Cypres 9612-1
    Rachel Kolly d'Alba
    EMI Music Distribution 789072
    RCA Gold Seal 7871
    SNE 594
    Thesis 82058
    Virgin 790760
    Stardust Duo 6375