Claude Debussy

Préludes (12) for piano, Book I, L. 125 (117)

    Description by Steven Coburn

    Each of Debussy's Préludes, Book I (1907-1910) is a short but substantial work that conveys a particular mood or impression suggested by its title. Still, as musicologist Rollo Myers notes, "the pictorial element [is not] unduly stressed if stressed at all; these Préludes are pure music." In accordance with the composer's practice of assigning a title only after the completion of a work, the titles of the Préludes are placed at the foot of each, rather than at the head. The Préludes represent the pinnacle of Debussy's keyboard art; each may be rightly regarded as a miniature masterpiece.

    1. Danseuses de Delphes (Delphic Dancers): This is a slow, hypnotic, stately sarabande that utilizes multiple layers of parallel chords in unusual five-bar groupings.

    2. Voiles (Sails): Whole-tone scales and pentatonic harmonies provide the musical substance of this mysterious and evocative tone poem. The spirit and character of this work recall "Jeux de vagues" (Play of waves), the second movement of La mer (1903-1905).

    3. Le vent dans la plaine (Wind on the Plain): Rapid figuration depicts the whirling winds, twice interrupted by sudden chordal outbursts. Much of the work's impact derives from the extreme, effective economy of its material.

    4. Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir (Sounds and Scents Mix in the Evening Air): The title of this Prélude was taken from Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal, the inspiration for this slow, waltz-like nocturne. The work makes active use of three themes, all in the same key, demanding the utmost sensitivity and imagination from the pianist.

    5. Les collines d'Anacapri (The Hills of Anacapri): This is a lively scherzo in tarantella rhythm, with a slower central section in imitation of Italian folk song. The piano writing is particularly colorful and brilliantly effective.

    6. Des pas sur la neige (Footprints in the Snow): Debussy depicts a barren winter snowscape with a plaintive, harmonically static dirge. The slow, sustained legato underpins the powerfully hypnotic atmosphere.

    7. Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest (What the West Wind Saw): Rapid, sweeping arpeggios, fast alternating chord passages, and thundering tremolos characterize this brilliant, virtuosic showpiece. It is virtually an etude, fiercely aggressive and calling upon the full resources of the pianist.

    8. La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with Flaxen Hair): The title of this, one of the most familiar of the Préludes, comes from Leconte de Lisle's Scottish Song. Debussy's use of modality lends an archaic air to this charming, delicate work.

    9. La sérénade interrompue (The Interrupted Serenade): A Spaniard wooing his sweetheart with the sounds of his voice and his guitar is thwarted by several noisy interruptions. Debussy effectively recreates a Spanish-inflected guitar sound on the keyboard, treating the interruptions with wry humor.

    10. La cathédral engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral): Debussy effects a striking musical depiction of the mythical submerged cathedral of Ys with "archaicisms" like modality and parallel harmonies. The work's rhythmic stasis, combined with its massive sonorities, creates an overwhelming sense of awe and grandeur.

    11. La danse de Puck (The Dance of Puck): Shakespeare's Puck is depicted here as a witty and capricious elf. Light, rapid figurations and sudden shifts of register and dynamics require an exceptional degree of pianistic control.

    12. Minstrels (Minstrels): The last of the Préludes from Book I is a sardonic parody of the music heard in turn-of-the-century music halls. Crisp rhythms and "popular" harmonies punctuated by sharp dissonance anticipate elements in the music of Stravinsky and Poulenc.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Danseuses de Delphes (Dancers of Delphi). Lent et grave
    2. Voiles (Sails). Modéré
    3. Le vent dans la plaine (The wind on the plain). Animé
    4. Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir (Baudelaire). Modéré
    5. Les collines d'Anacapri (The hills of Anacapri). Très modéré
    6. Des pas sur la neige (Footprints in the snow). Triste et lente
    7. Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest (What the west wind saw). Animé et tumultueux
    8. La fille aux cheveux de lin (Girl with the flaxen hair). Très calme et doucement expressif
    9. La sérénade interrompue (Interrupted serenade). Modérément animé
    10. La cathedrale engloutie (The sunken cathedral). Profondément calme
    11. La danse de Puck (Dance of Puck). Capricieux et légere
    12. Minstrels. Modéré

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Menuetto Classics
    2018 Menuetto Classics null
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon 4798741
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon
    2018 MSR Classics MS 1620
    2018 Musica Viva MV 120
    2018 Menuetto Classics null
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon
    2018 IBS Classical IBS 22018
    2018 Warner Classics null
    2018 Coviello Classics COV 91805
    2018 Arcana A 445
    2018 Warner Classics
    2018 Warner Classics 0190295705671
    2018 Harmonia Mundi HMM 902301
    2018 Ondine ODE 13042D
    2018 Warner Classics
    2018 New Focus FCR 192
    2018 Decca
    2018 Decca
    2017 Decca
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295869199
    2017 Naxos 8503293
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796277
    2016 Decca
    2016 Piano Classics PCL 0110
    2016 A Life of Music Records
    2016 Solo Musica SM 238
    2016 Acousence Classics ACOCD 12616
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88985321742
    2016 Sony Classical 88875192902
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 Maguelone MAG 111192
    2015 Naïve V 5415
    2015 Bongiovanni GB 51862
    2015 Dorian Sono Luminus / Sono Luminus DSL 92190
    2014 Centaur Records CRC 3308
    2014 Broken Audio BRAU 1149
    2014 Piano Classics PCL 0064
    2014 NEOS 2130304
    2014 Paraty PARATY 108105
    2014 Play Classics PC 13001
    2014 Orchid Classics ORC 100041
    2013 Delos 3454
    2013 Roméo Records 7297
    2013 Naxos 970215
    2013 Alto / Musical Concepts MCSCD 1211
    2013 Newton Classics 8802208
    2013 Entertainment Group 6105
    2013 Decca 4785437
    2013 Regis / Regis Records RRC 1399
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099970490
    2012 Hänssler Classic HAEN 93290
    2012 La Dolce Volta LDV 07
    2012 Naxos 8572584
    2012 Naxos 8509002
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94415
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099995591
    2012 Chandos CHAN 107435
    2012 Indesens IDS 41
    2012 Decca
    2012 Melodiya MELCD 1002002
    2012 Decca / ECM / Universal ECM 2241/42
    2012 ECM 4764735
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon / ECM 4779982
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099967833
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Melodiya MYD 1001622
    2012 Alto 4002
    2012 Genuin GEN 12227
    2012 Albany Music Distribution TROY 1348
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099963875
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4790056
    2012 Onyx ONYX 4095
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 4779918
    2011 Documents 232867
    2011 Centaur Records CRC3094/95/96/97
    2011 Regis / Regis Records RRC 4010
    2011 Tall Poppies 164
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099968582
    2010 EMI Classics 6483272
    2010 Decca
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 EMI Classics 965931
    2010 Naxos 857807778
    2010 Warner Classics
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94069
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 4778167
    2009 Tudor Records 731
    2009 Denon Records 00795041927828
    2009 Harmonia Mundi 2908209
    2009 Calliope 5831
    2009 Dal Segno 043
    2009 Warner Classics
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926508
    2009 Romeo Entertainment / Romeo Records 7278/9
    2009 Cembal d'amour 138
    2009 Decca
    2009 Decca 4781111
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 4778122
    2008 EMI Classics 217304
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 449438
    2008 Stradivarius 33364
    2008 Bridge 9247
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099920653
    2007 Cedille Records 98
    2007 Chandos 10421
    2007 Erato 284668
    2007 Union Square Music 46
    2007 X5 Music Group 21289
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 4776201
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 476215
    2006 Nonesuch
    2006 Hyperion CDA67530
    2006 Philips 4757301
    2006 APR (Appian) 5572
    2005 Talent Records 381004/05
    2005 Transart Live 128
    2005 Arts Music 47840
    2005 Onyx ONYX 4004
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 IDIS 6468/9
    2005 Andante 2110
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 4775694
    2004 Tacet 131
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 85990
    2004 ASV 720
    2004 Ivory Records IVCD73004
    2004 Centaur Records 2693/4
    2004 ASV / Sanctuary 402
    2004 Ivory Records 73006
    2003 Philips 473915
    2003 Meridian Records 84483/4-1,2
    2003 BIS 1205
    2003 Virgin 562261-2
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    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 000001602
    2002 Naïve V 1001
    2002 Classica d'Oro 3036
    2002 Aura Classics 2002
    2001 Eclectra 2056
    2001 Pro Piano 224525
    2001 Glissando 27
    2001 Glissando 779030
    2000 Aura Classics 0225
    2000 Novalis 150134
    2000 Disques Pierre Verany 700015
    2000 Angel Records 73656
    2000 Angel Records 67262
    2000 Aura Classics 2000
    2000 BBC Legends 4043
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon
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    1999 Philips 456754
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    1999 Delos DE1611
    1999 RCA 63424
    1999 ASV 506
    1999 Denon Records 17037
    1999 Arcana 63
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 445187
    1999 Philips 4323042
    1999 BBC Music BBCL4021-2
    1999 Aura Classics 0201
    1999 Harmonia Mundi 901695
    1999 Helicon Records 1029
    1999 Philips 456817
    1999 Philips 462232
    1999 Channel Crossings 1098
    1999 Philips 456790
    1998 Naxos 553293
    1998 Virgin 61421
    1997 Channel Classics 4892
    1997 Nimbus Records 1773
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 4805
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453 070-2GTA2
    1997 Quicksilva 432
    1997 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243565855
    1996 Arte Nova 34053
    1996 Carlton 00792
    1996 London 452022
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    1995 Wergo WER 6243-2
    1995 Ligia 0103023
    1995 Connoisseur Society 4198
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 439666
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    1995 VAI Audio 1117
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    1994 Philips 438718
    1994 London 443021
    1994 Decca
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    1992 Nonesuch 73031
    1992 Vox 5062
    1988 EMI Music Distribution 61004
    1984 Deutsche Grammophon
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    Walsingham 8016
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    Zoe Erisman
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    Saga Classics 3377
    EMI Music Distribution 69434
    Appassionato 999101
    UNT College of Music
    The Piano Library 317