Program Notes

CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)

SUITE BERGAMASQUE for solo piano
I. Prélude
II.  Menuet
III.  Clair de lune
IV.  Passepied

A Bergamasca is a clumsy peasant dance of the people of Bergamo in Northern Italy near Lake Como. The great French impressionist composer Claude Debussy began the suite at the age of 26 but worked on it another 15 years until it was ready for publication. It consists of two dance movements, a prelude and the transcendant Claire de Lune (“Moonlight”) which feels as if it were floating out of the piano.

Debussy studied at both the Paris Conservatoire and in Rome though more important influences came from visits to Wagner’s home in Bayreuth and, interestingly, from hearing Javanese music in Paris in 1889. The first movement is characterized by a sense of improvisation is throughout, as if you are not so much hearing a pianist play as hearing him think. Debussy himself talked about the sound of the Claire de Lune as his evocation of moonlight on a summer’s eve filtering through the leaves of a tree. The last movement is one of the most difficult in the literature with each hand performing radically different actions (left, short and staccato and right, long and flowing). As a string player who is constantly working on coordinating my two hands I am in awe of what pianists can do.

 Program notes by David Yang