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Name of Work

Debussy, Claude (1862-1918)
Première Rapsodie for clarinet and piano

Première Rapsodie for Clarinet and Piano


Feb 08, 2009

Steve Cohen, Clarinet
Lori Kaufman, Piano

Feb 09, 2009

Steve Cohen, Clarinet
Lori Kaufman, Piano

DEBUSSY-Première Rapsodie for Clarinet and Piano

Composed in 1910

In the wake of the resounding international success of his opera Pelleas et Melisande, Debussy was named to the executive board of the Paris Conservatory in 1909. He had, in fact, "arrived" as the leading French composer of his generation, and would become one of the most influential and respected composers of the 20th century. Chamber music plays a rather small role in Debussy's catalogue: an early piano trio, a string quartet, a group of sonatas from his very last years, a saxophone rhapsody, and two pieces with clarinet, Première Rapsodie and Petite Pièce. Both rhapsodies also exist in orchestral versions. The two clarinet pieces were written in 1909-1910 as contest pieces for students at the Paris Conservatory's final examinations. Of the Clarinet Rhapsody, the composer once wrote: "Surely this piece is one of the most pleasing I have ever written."

A Rhapsody, like a Fantasy, implies sudden changes of pace and mood. There are many such shifts in this short piece, which begins with a slow, wandering clarinet theme and gentle piano chords in an introduction marked Reveusement Lent, Dreamily Slow. A minor-toned theme emerges: sustained, ruminative, chromatic. A cadenza-like passage for the clarinet brings in a faster tempo and the main part of the piece. A rapid dialogue between the players gives way to a new, scale-like theme for the clarinet. The intent of the piece is to explore all the possibilities of the clarinet, throughout its entire range, but it's clear from the texture and the ongoing dialogue that Debussy relishes the sound of both instruments. Each player is almost performing an extended cadenza.

As motives emerge and blend, we occasionally hear echoes of the whole-tone scale that Debussy often employed in piano music; this has the effect of blurring any sense of a tonal center. The main theme returns in the clarinet part, decorated by the piano, and a fast upward scale signals the coda, with brilliant ringing tones from the clarinet and resonant chords from the piano.

Program notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance dates: February 8 & 9, 2009

CCM first performed this work at the March 2, 1987 First Monday concert at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Performance Audio