Debussy: Préludes pour piano

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The two books of Préludes by Claude Debussy (1862 -1918) are undoubtedly among the most important and popular piano compositions of the early twentieth century, and have exercised a truly seminal influence on the piano music of subsequent generations.

Published in 1910 and 1913 respectively, each book contains 12 pieces, each one of them an invitation to another unique, fully imagined world. In many ways a summation of Debussy’s extraordinarily vivid piano writing, these miniatures are self-contained miracles of sonority, impressionistic and colourific effect; they are equally a lesson in taut compositional clarity and structural genius.

Originally published by Durand, the Préludes are now available in various combinations and editions from most of the major publishing houses, including Henle Verlag, Wiener Urtext, Edition Peters, Schirmer, Alfred and Dover.

In this review I am looking at the new urtext edition by Thomas Kabisch, published by Bärenreiter in two volumes; both volumes are exemplary in their scholarship, also including helpful editorial fingering supplied by the pianist Martin Widmaier.

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Debussy: Where to Start?

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It’s all about Claude Debussy for classical music lovers and pianists in 2018, as we mark the centenary of his death in 1918. And rightly so, because few composers have made such a seminal contribution to the pianist’s literature, or composed music which explores such a range of colour, tonal possibility and timbre from the instrument.

For the developing pianist, the question often arises – where to start exploring Debussy’s rich, varied and substantial body of piano music? The good news is that, while Debussy never wrote anything simple, his oeuvre does offer up plenty of music that suits pianists of early advanced, around Grade 5-8 level.

In a recent editorial for the BBC Music Magazine, Oliver Condy fondly remembers his teenage efforts playing Debussy’s music at the piano:

“Playing his music was always so much fun – serious music that didn’t seem at all serious, jazz that our music teachers would instantly sanction. And Debussy’s innate skill of writing for the piano meant that everything fell nicely under the fingers. Maximum effect, minimum effort. Of course, I’m not talking about the harder pieces – oh no. But in general, I’ll always see Debussy as one of the most gracious of composers who understands that to be appreciated, it helps if performers don’t hate you from the start.”

There are several excellent collections of Debussy’s piano music aimed at players at this “early advanced” level, but in this review I am going to focus on the Debussy: Easy Piano Pieces and Dances collection published by Bärenreiter…

Continue reading Debussy: Where to Start?