Views from the stage

Three great De­bussyans on the com­poser’s al­lure

BBC Music Magazine - - Claude Debussy -

Steven Os­borne pi­anist

De­bussy’s mu­sic feels lovely to play, phys­i­cally and vis­cer­ally. There’s so much sub­tlety that you be­come very aware of the touch and weight of the keys. He was one of the most dar­ing com­posers; it’s not that his pieces are form­less, but he’s of­ten will­ing to hold judg­ment and see what hap­pens. It’s ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to write in his seem­ingly open-ended im­pro­visatory style and make it still seem vivid and strong, but he man­ages to sus­tain the im­por­tance of each mo­ment. He’s got a great in­stinct in find­ing mean­ing in very lit­tle ges­tures, which is some­how bound to­gether by a broader shape that never feels pre­scrip­tive. His mu­sic fits beau­ti­fully into a lot of dif­fer­ent pro­grammes, and he is one of the great­est com­posers for cre­at­ing a sense of im­mer­sion – it’s the sense of still­ness he cre­ates in a con­cert hall set­ting that’s so in­ti­mate.

Colin Matthews com­poser

You can’t put your fin­ger on what makes De­bussy’s mu­sic so ef­fec­tive. It has an im­pro­visatory qual­ity and you never know where it’s go­ing next. I’ve never an­a­lysed it in depth be­cause I don’t want to find out what’s hap­pen­ing. Even in or­ches­trat­ing the pi­ano Préludes, I took

them as given and didn’t look too closely at how they were or­gan­ised. There’s some­thing so magic about it – the chord pro­gres­sions, the way things are voiced. I’m still sur­prised by what comes next: it’s like a mad jig­saw puz­zle. I’ve never known an au­di­ence that was hos­tile to De­bussy – I know crit­ics were quite rude about Pel­léas et Mélisande at the first per­for­mance, but that’s per­haps the only ex­cep­tion. He makes peo­ple feel they’re be­ing ad­ven­tur­ous.

Claire Jones harpist

De­bussy’s writ­ing is very imag­i­na­tive and dream­like and his melodies are easy to re­mem­ber and tune­ful. I al­ways sched­ule De­bussy in my con­cert pro­grammes, be­cause it ap­peals to peo­ple who are se­ri­ous about mu­sic as well as those who know noth­ing about clas­si­cal mu­sic – it’s very ac­ces­si­ble. De­bussy’s Danse sacrée et danse pro­fane is the piece that peo­ple most as­so­ciate with his writ­ing for harp. It’s de­mand­ing be­cause of its chro­mati­cism and pedal changes, but there are also very sim­plis­tic el­e­ments, and that con­trast is beau­ti­ful. The dou­ble-ac­tion harp was in­vented at the same time De­bussy wrote this piece, which al­lowed the use of all chro­matic notes, so De­bussy showed off the harp’s new ca­pa­bil­i­ties re­ally well. He’s very spe­cific with his mark­ings which makes it easy for artists to see what he wants.

French pol­ish:

Steven Os­borne plays De­bussy at St John’s Smith Square, 2016

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