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Category: Debussy

“The Afternoon of a Faun” – Debussy / Nijinsky / Nureyev

397px-Faun_merse

      Faun and Nymph (1867)

 

              Pál Szinyei Merse               

 

                      ________

 

 

to take a break, for a moment, from the

travails of Io, a heifer still, though her

father, Inachus, is aware of the situation,

and Hermes, messenger of the gods, is 

out, on the orders of Jove/ Jupiter / Zeus

to save her, and, at the same time, 

inspired by the music Hermes tells Argus

her many-eyed keeper, Pan, god of the

wilds, has been playing, with reeds he’s 

been left with of Syrinx, the nymph he  

would’ve loved had she not been 

transformed into rushes, as imagined by 

Debussy in his evocative Syrinx for solo 

flute, as highlighted in my last instalment

I could not not remember Debussy‘s 

other similarly mythological, and intimately

related, work, his Prelude to the Afternoon 

of a Faun, as modified itself by Vaslav

Nijinsky, legendary dancer and 

choreographer, into an event that verily 

shook the early 20th Century 

 

retitled, L’après-midi d’un faune, The

Afternoon of a Faun in English, the 

performance captures everything one

would gather from Ovid’s myths of its 

primitive, primal, sensibilities

 

the faun, needless to say, is representative 

of Pan, god of the wild, woodlands, a satyr, 

part instinct, part man, see above 

 

watch Rudolf Nureyev, then, his equally 

celebrated successor, take on the role

Nijinsky made famous, without any 

alterations made to the original 1912 

production, however improbably, 

though entirely successfully, we’re in 

Paris, May 29, though transposed,

faithfully and superbly, to New York,

Broadway, 1979 

 

proceed, however, at your own discretion, 

The Afternoon of a Faun is steaming, it’s 

about what happens when a young buck’s 

fancies, implacable and irrepressible, turn 

to love, not for the scrupulous, where does 

love begin, it asks, and lust retire, or is it 

the other way around, where does yin, in 

other words, meet, become, yang

 

these are questions that more and more 

begin to come up, you’ll find, in Greek 

and Roman, and most other ancient, 

for that matter, mythologies, something 

that isn’t at all touched upon in the 

Abrahamic traditions, Christanity, Islam, 

Judaism, monotheistic, though they’re 

at least as old, where nature, the place 

of animals, vegetation, land, water, our

intimate interconnection with them, 

don’t much, for better or for worse, 

come up

 

I miss the wonder of the more 

pantheistic, the pagan, perspective 

 

enjoy

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

The Transformation of Syrinx into Reeds

pan-and-syrinx-1619.jpg!Large

   Pan and Syrinx (1617 – 1619) 

 

           Peter Paul Rubens

 

                 __________



               Then Hermes thus: 

 

Hermes, messenger of the gods,

addresses Argus, keeper of Io

who’s been transformed by Jove

god of gods, into a heifer, though 

she remains daughter, ever, of 

Inachus, river god, to tell the

story of his rare, beguiling reeds

 

                                             A nymph of late there was
               Whose heav’nly form her fellows did surpass. 

 

here we go again with nymphs, 

beautiful, irresistible, however 

ever innocent, prey, due, indeed,

to their very beauty, their very

innocence, to lustful, inordinate 

desires, in these instances, 

markedly divine 

 

deities, I point out again, make 

up their own rules


               The pride and joy of fair Arcadia’s plains, 

 

Arcadia, apart from being an 

actual area of Greece, is also 

the ideal, in our historical 

imagination, of an utopia

much as is the lost island of

Atlantis 


               Belov’d by deities, ador’d by swains:
               Syrinx her name, by Sylvans oft pursu’d, 

 

Sylvans, could only be, though

I’ve been unable to find actual 

confirmation of my opinion, 

wood spirits, forest entities, 

satyrs, goat men, and such

 

               As oft she did the lustful Gods delude: 

 

Syrinx could often, or oft, delude, 

or fool, ward off, the lustful Gods

 

               The rural, and the woodland Pow’rs disdain’d; 

 

satyr yourself, Syrinx would’ve 

impudently taunted

 

               With Cynthia hunted, and her rites maintain’d:
               Like Phoebe clad, even Phoebe’s self she seems, 

 

Cynthia, is Phoebe, both also known

as Dianagoddess of the Hunt, you’ll

remember Phoebe / Diana from her

connection to Daphne, who earlier

here was transformed into a laurel 

 

Syrinx sounds an awful lot, incidentally,

like another version of Daphne


               So tall, so streight, such well-proportion’d limbs:
               The nicest eye did no distinction know,
               But that the goddess bore a golden bow: 

 

the only difference between Syrinx

and Cynthia / Phoebe / Diana was 

that Syrinx didn’t have, bear, 

golden bow


               Distinguish’d thus, the sight she cheated too. 

 

had she borne a golden bow, Syrinx

[d]istinguish’d thus, would’ve cheated 

the sight, looked identical, to the 

beautiful, it is inferred, goddess 

 

               Descending from Lycaeus, Pan admires
               The matchless nymph, and burns with new desires. 

 

Pan, god of the wild, woodlands

 

Lycaeus, Latin spelling of Lykaion,

is a mountain in Arcadia


               A crown of pine upon his head he wore;
               And thus began her pity to implore.
               But e’er he thus began, she took her flight
               So swift, she was already out of sight.
               Nor stay’d to hear the courtship of the God;
               But bent her course to Ladon’s gentle flood: 

 

Ladon, a river in Arcadia 

 

flood, rushing, though gentl[y], 

water, rhymes in the preceding 

verse, you’ll note, with God


               There by the river stopt, and tir’d before;
               Relief from water nymphs her pray’rs implore. 

 

Syrinx, once by the river stopt, seeks 

the help of, assistance, [r]elief from, 

the nearby water nymphs, her 

consorts  


               Now while the lustful God, with speedy pace,
               Just thought to strain her in a strict embrace, 

 

Pan, like Phoebus / Apollo, or 

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus before him,

is, as well, and characteristically,

a lustful God


               He fill’d his arms with reeds, new rising on the place.
               And while he sighs, his ill success to find, 

 

his ill success, his thwarted, 

ineffective, enterprise 


               The tender canes were shaken by the wind;
               And breath’d a mournful air, unheard before; 

 

the reeds that Pan gathered in his arms, 

shaken by the wind, create a mournful 

air, a melancholy music


               That much surprizing Pan, yet pleas’d him more. 

 

though Pan might’ve been much

surpriz[ed] by the sorrowful sounds 

he heard, he was more pleas’d by 

them than startled

 

               Admiring this new musick, Thou, he said,
               Who canst not be the partner of my bed,
               At least shall be the confort of my mind: 

 

Thou, Syrinx


               And often, often to my lips be joyn’d. 

 

in a kiss of consolation 


               He form’d the reeds, proportion’d as they are,
               Unequal in their length, and wax’d with care,
               They still retain the name of his ungrateful fair. 

 

the instrument Pan devised from

the tender canes he fashioned

from the unaccommodating reeds, 

what we now name the Pan flute

was called in Ancient Greece a 

syrinx, in honour of the 

recalcitrant nymph 

 

listen, coincidentally, to Debussy 

tell the storyfor solo flute,

however, which is to say, on a

modern instrumentfor our having 

long ago abandoned at a 

professional level the original pipe, 

though it remains, apparently, as a

folk instrument in more agrarian,

communities around the world, for 

shepherds, one would imagine, to

while away the hours while tending

to their, however wayward, sheep 

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

a sonata / a suite of Robert Schumann

big-zoo-triptych.jpg!Large

    “Big Zoo, Triptych (1913) 

 

             August Macke

  

              __________

 

if a sonata is a piece of music with 

more than one segment, and a 

suite is also a piece of music with 

more than one segment, what’s 

the difference, you’ll ask, not 

unreasonably  

 

a sonata speaks for itself, as itself, 

is itself, whereas a suite, also in 

several sections, describes 

something else, something not 

itself, but a place, or an action, it’s

a tale, not an autobiography

 

this has some implications, the 

sonata will consequently be more 

expansive, displaying not only 

emotional impact, but also 

technical wizardry, will beat its 

chest, in other words, whether in 

agony or in bombast, whereas 

suite, while not excluding  

necessarily those aspects, will 

usually be more demure, objective

snap its suspenders less 

 

a suite also has more movements 

than the sonata’s usual three or 

four, consider the difference 

between, in art, a triptych, for

instance, and a collage, they’re

in either case artworks, but with

different intentions

 

does any of this matter, to the

aficionado it does, if you want to

buy a home, you could be looking

for a duplex instead of a condo, if

you’re listening to music, you

might  prefer chamber pieces to

large orchestras, suites to sonatas

 

Robert Scumann’s “Kinderszenen“,

or “Scenes from Childhood“,

though not yet identified, in 1838,

as a suite, since the term hadn’t

been used that way yet, is

nevertheless not any different

in kind from Debussy’s later

Children’s Corner“, 1908, so  

that the label fits, however

retroactively  

 

you could say the same of Beethoven’s 

“Pastorale” Symphony, for instance,

it’s also, however retroactively, a suite

 

but here’s Schumann’s Second Piano 

Sonata, to compare with his

Kinderszenen“, to get back to my

original subject, the difference

between a suite an a sonata

 

listen

 

R ! chard

“Années de pèlerinage”, 2nd Year – Liszt

petrarch.jpg!Large

     “Petrarch (c.1450) 

 

           Andrea del Castagno


                     ___________

 

 

                                    for John, who would’ve 

                                                       been 60 today

 


though the suite might’ve started with

Bach’s string of dance pieces in the 

early 18th Centuryit becomes evident 

during the 19th Century, after a lapse 

of nearly 100 years, while it fell into 

disfavour, that its resurrection as a 

valid musical form might’ve kept the 

original structure, which is to say its 

several separate parts to make up a 

whole, its movements, but that it 

now was serving different purpose 

 

where music had, through to the early

Romantic Period, followed dance 

rhythms, or variations of tempo,

adagio, andante, allegro, and the like,

it now presented itself as a background

for settings, be it ballets, as in

Tchaikovsky’s, plays, as in Edvard

Grieg’s celebrated , Peer Gynt Suite“,

after Ibsen‘s eponymous play,

specific locations, as in Debussy’s

Children’s Corner“, or more  

expansively, both geographically

and in its compositional length,

these very “Années de pèlerinage” 

of Liszt

 

this is in keeping with the exploration

of consciousness of that era, which 

would lead to not only Impressionism, 

but to Freud, and the others, and the 

development of psychoanalysis

 

you’ll note that music seems much 

more improvisational in Liszt than in

Chopin, or Beethoven, prefiguring

already even jazz, more evocative,

less emotional, more personal, not

generalized, idiosyncratic, a direct

development of the newly acquired

concept of democracy, one man, at

the time, one vote, one, indeed, 

voice, however individual, however 

even controversial 

 

listen, for instance, to Liszt’s “Années

de pèlerinage”, 2nd Year, Italy 

 

   1. Sposalizio

   2. Il penseroso

   3. Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa 

   4. Sonetto 47 del Petrarca 

   5. Sonetto 104 del Petrarca 

   6. Sonetto 123 del Petrarca 

   7. Après une lecture de Dante: Fantasia Quasi Sonata 

 

 

today you can listen to suites 

from famous films, for instance 

Blade Runner“, the beat, in 

other words, goes on

 

but note the renovations, find them, 

dare you, you’ll be surprised at 

your unsuspected perspicacity

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard  

the Nutcracker Suite – Tchaikovsky

vzevolozhsky's_costume_sketch_for_nutcracker

 original costume sketch for “The Nutcracker” (1892)

 

       Ivan Vsevolozhsky

 

              __________

 

 

it didn’t take me long, after wondering 

about precedents for Debussy’s nursery

piece, Children’s Corner, to ferret out 

Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, a work

with a similar theme, childhood 

fantasies

 

but the Nutcracker Suite

 

         l. Miniature Overture

        ll. Danses caractéristiques

                a. Marche

                b. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies

                c. Russian Dance

                d. Arabian Dance

                e. Chinese Dance

                f. Reed Flutes

       lll. Waltz of the Flowers

 

is not to be confused with the complete 

balletfrom which it had been excerpted 

to great acclaim before the ballet itself 

was presented, but to much less 

enthusiasm, until George Balanchine 

revived it in the 1960s

 

note that Tchaikovsky’s Suite, in 1892, 

contains still the traditional elements 

of the suite – see above – a prelude, or 

overture, followed by a series of 

dances, only a few years before 

Debussy’s Children’s Corner, 1908, 

redefined the form, made the 

movements indiscriminate, not 

confined to dance rhythms

 

note also that Tchaikovsky sounds 

a lot more like the Strausses, father

and son, Romantics both, than he 

does like Debussy, an Impressionist,

a generation later only

here’s the orchestral Nutcracker Suite,

a suite, in other words, is not limited

to one instrument

 

here’s a riveting version of it for two 

pianos, not to be missed 

 

R ! chard

two suites – Debussy

clair-de-lune.jpg

     “Clair de lune” 

 

      Jean Cocteau

 

        __________

 

 

two suites 

 

      Debussy’s Suite bergamasque

 

      his “Children’s Corner

 

how are they similar

how are they different

 

you tell me

 

a couple o’ clues

 

      “Suite bergamasque

 

             Prélude

             Menuet

             Clair de lune

             Passepied

 

      Children’s Corner

 

             Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum

             Jimbo’s Lullaby

             Serenade for the Doll

             The Snow is Dancing

             The Little Shepherd

             Golliwog’s Cakewalk

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: if you said, there are no dance

          pieces in Children’s Corner“,

          and only three of the four 

          movements in “Suite

          bergamasque” are dances, 

          you’d be right, the others all

          have evocative titles, nothing 

          to do with the cadence, the 

          step

 

          but that begs the question, 

          what happened to the traditional

          suite, a string of dances preceded

          by a prelude

 

          well, time, and the vagaries of

          language, intentions, essentially, 

          Debussy did to the suite what

          Chopin had done to the prelude

      changed its meaning, took away

          its original purpose, for better or

          for worse, a suite is now, in a

          similar transformation, a piece

          of music, merely, any kind of music,

          with several segments, without

          even, necessarily, gasp, a

          prelude

 

          you can never step into the same

          river twice, in other words, the

          current just keeps on inexorably

           moving, even immutable,

           apparently, concepts fall by the

           wayside, see democracy, at

           present, for  instance

two suites – Debussy / Ravel

minuet-1756.jpg!large

    Minuet (1756) 

 

           Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

 

                                   _________

 

two pieces

 

          one by Debussy, his Pour le piano

              or, in English, For the Piano 

 

          a second, by Ravel, his Le tombeau 

              de Couperin“, or Couperin’s Coffin

 

 how are they similar

 how are they different

 you tell me

 

a couple o’ clues

 

          Pour le piano 

 

                  Prélude

                  Sarabande

                  Toccata

 

          Le tombeau de Couperin

 

                  Prélude

                  Fugue

                  Forlane

                  Rigaudon

                  Menuet

                  Toccata

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: both these works are suites, in

          the manner of Bach, compositions 

          with more than one segment, the

          first a prelude, followed by, at

          least, two dance pieces  

 

          the form had remained fallow for

          nearly two hundred years until it

          was revived, atavistically, during

          the Impressionist Period  

 

           if you can’t tell your sarabande

          from your rigaudon, your forlane

          from your toccata, don’t fret, they

          are now defunct dances, not to

          mention that they’ve always been

          stylized, these suites, in other

          words, weren’t made for dancing,

          as the saying goes, but for

          performance, listening

 

Preludes – Debussy / Gershwin

rhythm-2008.jpg!large

    “Rhythm (2008) 

 

             Romul Nutiu

 

                         ______

 

 

here’s Book 2 of Debussy’s “Préludes”,

for a total of 24, as many as in Chopin’s 

undivided set, his Opus 28but with 

different motivations, different musical 

imperatives, which I won’t get into here 

for being, for the present, too abstruse

 

here are three, meanwhile, by George 

Gershwin, just for kicks, his only three 

 

what are the differences

 

you tell me

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: Gershwin, to my mind, adds, 

          indeed stresses, rhythm, 

          fascinatin’, as it were, rhythm,

          he’s no longer as unrelentingly

          meditative, serious, as was

          Debussy, a distinguishing

          characteristic of the

          increasingly American 20th

          Century

       

        

Études – Debussy / Rachmaninov

he-music-lesson-1917.jpg!Large.jpg
 

  “The Music Lesson (1917) 

 

          Henri Matisse

 

              _________

 

 

here are two sets of contemporary 

études

 

      the first, Book 2 of Debussy’s 
          Études pour piano 
            published in 1915

 

       the second, Rachmaninov’s
           Études-tableaux“, Opus 39,
            of 1917

 

note the similarities

note the differences

 

R ! chard

psst: I found Rachmaninov to be still
          caught  up in the Romantic
          Period – identifiable melodies,
          less eccentric tonalities – the
          better to, still, pull at your
          heartstrings, Debussy, is more
          clinical, cerebral, pointing the
          way towards, I think, jazz

          but you tell

Études – Chopin /Debussy

edgar-degas-the-ballet-class.jpg!Large.jpg

   “The Ballet Class (1871 – 1874) 

 

          Edgar Degas

 

             ________

 

 

ballet dancers will attach weights 

to their ankles during exercises 

to add lift to their legs when they 

are on stage, such is the point of 

études for a piano player, a 

workout for the fingers before 

public performance 

 

Chopin, however, made them, by

themselves, works of great art,

followed by, among others,

Debussy

 

here’s Chopin, his Opus 25

 

here’s Debussy, his own Études

pour piano, Livre 1“, or Book 1

 

how are they different

 

you tell me

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: this is an easy one, Chopin is

          Romantic, Debussy, manifestly,

          is not, Debussy is Impressionistic,

          it is a new perspective, you can 

          hear it, it’s textural rather than 

          emotional, indeed, it’s even

          abstract

 

          but nearly a century has gone by,   

          and Impressionism is the new  

          aesthetic, the new preoccupation

  

          which belongs to not only the  

          painters, let me point out, but to  

          all the arts, for better, once again, 

          or for worse