Claude Debussy

Jeux, ballet, L. 126

    Description by Alexander Carpenter

    Jeux is a ballet. The story for the work was suggested by the Russian dancer and choreographer Vladimir Nijinsky, famous for his association with Igor Stravinsky, Serge Diaghilev, and the Ballet Russes. Nijinsky had danced in Debussy's L'après midi d'une faune in 1912, and apparently felt some affinity with Debussy and his music. Debussy rejected Nijinsky's original scenario, which included a game of tennis and a crashing airplane; instead, Debussy proposed a scenario in which two women and a man become involved in a love triangle while searching for a lost tennis ball one evening. Premiered in 1913 by the Ballets Russes, the ballet is set at a tennis court, where a man happens upon two women. The man turns on the charm, and flirts with one until he gets a kiss, making the other jealous. The second girl then dances with the man, while the first leaves. They join together at the end, and the ballet ends with a tennis ball rolling across the stage, edging the trio offstage.

    The ballet has been criticized for its inaccessibility, and indeed it is an intimidating, complicated work. Absent from the work are repeating themes, clear tonal centers, and simple functional harmonies, making the work somewhat reminiscent of Arnold Schoenberg's atonal modernist opera of 1909, Erwartung, in which "themes" are heard only once, and motivic material is abandoned almost immediately after it is heard. Jeux contains a number of techniques carried over from Debussy's earlier opera Pelléas et Mélisande -- most notably what Arthur Denk calls "diatonic saturation," a technique which exhausts all of the diatonic pitches in embellishing a single chord. The ballet also contains moments of bitonality, in the form of superimposed contrasting diatonic sonorities, and moments of near-atonality. However, there is ultimately a subtle overarching tonal framework (using modal, pentatonic, major, and minor tonalities) connecting the various episodes of the work.

    Jeux was premiered just two weeks before Stravinsky's then scandalous Le sacre du printemps, and Debussy was deeply impressed by Le sacre. There are a number of similarities between the two ballets, most notably the adventurous harmonies that stretch the limits of tonality. Debussy's ballet marks a turning point in his career, perhaps even a moment of crisis, and ultimately it would be Stravinsky whose influence would push Debussy in a new musical direction.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295886691
    2017 BIS BIS 2162
    2016 San Francisco Symphony SFS 0069
    2016 Praga PRD 250332
    2016 Sony Classical 88875192902
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 AAO Music MCRP 2666782
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 002894794261
    2015 Warner Classics 552758
    2015 Chandos CHAN 10863
    2013 ICA Classics ICAC 5109
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4790333
    2012 RCA Red Seal 88691928092
    2012 Decca 4784251
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 Chandos CHAN 107435
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099963655
    2012 Praga PRDDSD 350072
    2012 Tahra TAH 729730
    2012 Chandos CHSA 51022
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4790056
    2011 BD Jazz / Zebralution
    2011 Documents 232867
    2011 Newton Classics 8802043
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 LSO / LSO Live 0692
    2011 Decca 476 2604
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990721
    2011 Warner Classics 256467923
    2011 Decca
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 AAO Music
    2010 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996773
    2009 Decca 4781090
    2009 Decca / Universal
    2009 Chandos 10545
    2009 Hallé 7518
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Decca 4800127
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 Documents/Membran / Membran 231885
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099951456
    2008 Naxos 8570759
    2008 Philips 4768502
    2007 Haenssler 93196
    2007 X5 Music Group 21289
    2006 Apex
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946365235
    2006 Music & Arts CD1182
    2006 BBC Legends 41822
    2005 RCO Live 05001
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 62012
    2005 Erato
    2005 Brilliant 92765
    2005 Andante 4100
    2005 EMI Classics 4768542
    2004 EMI Classics 75218
    2004 Decca 000213002
    2004 AAO Music / United Audio Entertai 6508
    2004 Testament 1324
    2003 Chandos 10144
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 5 75526-2
    2002 Decca 4702552
    2001 Concerto Royale 206222
    2001 Testament 1212
    2001 Tahra 376-377
    2000 Supraphon 3478
    2000 Urania 132
    1999 Chandos 7016
    1999 Platinum Entertainment 340
    1999 Sony Music Distribution 48231
    1999 Decca 460217
    1999 Sony Classical SMK-60972
    1999 RCA 64616
    1999 Berlin Classics 0021592
    1999 Cascavelle VEL 5004
    1999 NM Classics 97014
    1998 Testament 1108
    1998 Virgin 5614242
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 72667
    1998 Digital Sound 51039
    1998 Grammofono 2000 91090
    1997 Point Classics 267125
    1997 Nimbus Records 1773
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 63244
    1997 Channel Classics 4992
    1996 Royal Classics 701172
    1996 Ades 20389
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 439 896-2GH
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 31831
    1995 Sony Classical 68327
    1995 Chandos 7019
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 47546
    1994 Philips 438742
    1992 Vox 5003
    1991 Astree 7801
    1990 Astree 7800
    Saarländischen Rundfunks 372
    Supraphon 8065
    EMI Music Distribution 49947
    EMI Music Distribution 72095
    Brilliant 92765/2
    Erato 75330
    CBS Records 37261
    Decca 430240
    Philips 400023
    Ades 20588
    Vox 8159
    Supraphon 110658
    BBC Music 293
    CBS Masterworks 45620
    Berliner Philharmoniker
    Originals 855
    Enterprise 915
    Disques Montaigne 8800
    Document 915/16
    EMI Music Distribution 68065
    Arlecchino 157
    Arkadia 24