Claude Debussy

Pour le piano, suite for piano, L. 95

    Description by John Keillor

    Claude Debussy began his three movement piano suite, Pour le piano, L. 95, around 1896 and completed it in 1903. There was a great deal of evolution in the composer's style during these years; his songs and orchestral writing had become wholly unique. It was not until this late date in his career (he was in his late thirties when he began this suite) that Debussy chose to incorporate the idiomatic challenges of the piano into his personal vocabulary. Looking at the whole of his output, with such piano masterpieces as Estampes and his etudes to his credit, it is difficult to imagine why it took so long for the composer to begin writing great piano music.

    The suite's opening Prélude has a fast, savvy infectiousness, using the whole-tone scale and closing with a harp-like cadenza flourish that is unmistakably Debussyian. There is a broad palette of tone colors at work in the opening movement, featuring wide contrasts in register and breadth of chords. The opening builds from an initial, fast and steady line into a grand, overture-like section within the first minute. From there the opening material is then transformed into a totally different texture that heads to the same declamatory, ritornello-style moment. The differing colors and the general tone of this prelude suggest orchestral writing, which is what Debussy's hero, Chopin, abhorred in Beethoven's solo piano music. On the whole, the effect is both familiar and exotic, with shades of near-ancient music (such as Rameau's), and Javanese gamelan. Chopin comes to mind as well, though it is easy to imagine him taking exception to this comparison. It is undeniable, though, that the real power of French piano music is most readily identified with Debussy and Chopin's mature keyboard compositions. Both have a unique reverence for the pianist's position as a master of an exceptional instrument and a language that is specific to it.

    In the second movement, Sarabande, is actually a revision of the "Sarabande" found in his Images (oubliées) of 1894. In it, the composer is having a very personal conversation through the piano. Like Debussy's D'un cahier d'esquisses, the keyboard is a vehicle for an extra-musical level of communication; the listener seems almost beside the point as the composer maintains a loving dialogue with music; there are no fireworks whatsoever. Alert listeners may regard this work as among the most intimate music for the keyboard. There is also a certain affinity for the piano music of the composer's friend, Erik Satie, whose 1887 Sarabande may well have inspired the tone of Debussy's own movement. Debussy may have been the superior craftsman, but Satie's pianistic ability to deliver the straight goods, the meaningful understatement, has always been under-appreciated for its influence on his good friend Claude.

    The suite's finale is a Toccata that is poised and energetic, extroverted and graceful. Performers will find it daunting and enlightening. Demanding unflappable technique and poise, it concludes the suite admirably with the message that Debussy has mastered the piano's unique language on his own terms.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Prelude. Assez animé et très rythmé
    2. Sarabande. Avec un élégance grave et lente
    3. Toccata. Vif

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Menuetto Classics null
    2018 Navona Records NV 6164
    2018 Musica Viva MV 120
    2018 SWR Music SWR 19054CD
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon 4798642
    2018 Warner Classics null
    2018 Arcana A 445
    2018 Warner Classics
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295869199
    2017 Ars Produktion ARS 38542
    2016 Sony Classical 88843071652
    2016 ABC Classics
    2015 SWR Music 93337
    2015 DUX / Dux Records DUX 1111
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Alto ALC 1221
    2013 Naxos 8503269
    2012 Li-Sem Enterprises DKM 602
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94415
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099995591
    2012 Chandos CHAN 107435
    2012 Indesens IDS 41
    2012 Decca
    2012 Sony Classical 88691928102
    2012 Hyperion CDA 67898
    2012 Alto 4002
    2012 Genuin GEN 12226
    2012 Decca / Mercury Living Presence 001653302
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4779548
    2012 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099963875
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4790056
    2012 Onyx ONYX 4095
    2011 Documents 232867
    2011 Centaur Records CRC3094/95/96/97
    2011 Solo Records SLR 5
    2011 Regis / Regis Records RRC 4010
    2011 Tall Poppies 164
    2011 BIS BISCD 1405
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099902831428
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099968582
    2010 Decca
    2010 EMI Classics 6483272
    2010 Calliope 5833
    2010 Warner Classics
    2009 Brilliant Classics 93900
    2009 Tudor Records 731
    2009 Virgin Classics 5099969947
    2009 Warner Classics
    2009 Harmonia Mundi 2908209
    2009 Audite 21404
    2009 EMI Classics 13251
    2009 BBC Legends 42612
    2009 Fono Forum 8553129
    2008 Erato
    2008 Virgin Classics 22114
    2008 Onyx ONYX 4028
    2008 ABC Classics 4766834
    2007 Simax 1297
    2007 Harmonia Mundi 901947/48
    2007 Chandos 10443
    2007 Bridge 9219
    2007 EMI Classics 385260
    2007 Erato 284668
    2007 Scandinavian Classics 220558
    2006 Arts Music 47579
    2006 Philips 4757301
    2005 Arts Music 47840
    2005 Andante 2110
    2005 Brilliant 92615
    2004 Berlin Classics 0013452BC
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 85990
    2004 ASV / Sanctuary 402
    2004 Ivory Records 73006
    2004 ASV 703
    2004 Entr'acte 6505
    2003 Decca 000125602
    2003 Sony Classical 87278
    2003 Virgin 562261-2
    2003 Centaur Records CRC2867
    2001 Soundset 1017
    2001 Disques Pierre Verany 700018
    2001 Aura Classics 0170
    2001 Supraphon 35842
    2001 Supraphon 35802
    2001 Gall (formerly Gallo) 1027
    2000 Virgin 61327
    2000 Stradivari 9009
    2000 Virgin 61197
    2000 Stradivarius 33363
    2000 VAI Audio 1043
    1999 Aura Classics 0157
    1999 ASV 506
    1999 Wergo 62412
    1999 Aura Classics 0109
    1999 Arcana 62
    1999 Philips 456817
    1999 Philips 462232
    1999 Philips 454987
    1999 Philips 456910
    1999 Philips 456778
    1999 VAI Audio 1175
    1998 Harmonia Mundi 7901504
    1998 Koch Classics 316362
    1998 Denon Records 18047
    1998 Virgin 61421
    1997 Nimbus Records 1773
    1997 BMG 68127
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453 070-2GTA2
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon
    1997 Quicksilva 432
    1997 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243565855
    1996 Sony Music Distribution 62386
    1996 London 452022
    1996 Naxos 504010
    1996 Meridian Records 84160
    1995 Naxos 553290
    1995 Mercury 434359
    1995 Harmonia Mundi 90635
    1995 Hyperion 44061
    1994 Berlin Classics 0021712
    1994 Philips 438718
    1994 Sony Music Distribution 53973
    1994 Decca
    1994 London 443021
    1994 Chandos 9294
    1994 Astree 8531
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 48174
    1992 Nimbus 5160
    1992 Vox 5063
    Ermitage 149
    Virgin 59653
    Newport Classic 60063
    Arlecchino 168
    Stradivari 6078
    Regis Trio 8
    EMI Music Distribution 54451
    EMI Music Distribution 47608
    Denon Records 5196443
    Harmonia Mundi 901504
    EMI Music Distribution 47374
    Philips 412118
    Erato 94827
    James Marchand 3664
    Brilliant 92615/6
    Nimbus 5080
    Virgin 61757
    Saga Classics 3376