100 Years of Claude Debussy
A Blog from Classical Bristol’s Charlotte Perkins
Debussy: the name conjures lush harmonies, immense orchestration and a soulful sense of romance. 2018 marks 100 years since the death of one of the twentieth century’s most influential composers – and what better way to celebrate than putting his music into modern context?
Works like Clair de Lune, Prélude à l‘après-midi d’un faune and La Mer have captivated audiences for over a century. Debussy’s music was ground-breaking in its time – the sheer density of it combined with the ever-swelling melodies and the gorgeous moments of utter silence that keep the ear on tenterhooks – no wonder that his compositions continue to inspire composers and ensembles to this day.
One such group is the Debussy Mirrored Ensemble. Brought together by jazz flautist and composer Eddie Parker, the ensemble consists of 12 exceptional jazz and classical musicians who have taken a dozen of Debussy’s pieces and have come up with a performance that elaborates and improvises on the composer’s music, exploring the potential of the music to its maximum. The ensemble captures the soul of Debussy – the music has a constant sense of movement has a wonderfully airy sense of space. The use of modern percussion brings the essence of the composer into the modern era – but the sense of other-worldliness that was always the composer’s forte is captured in the arrangements for pan flute and alto flute, their breathiness capturing an airy, fantastical sound world. This comes across especially strongly in ‘Little Shepherd’, which plays on the ever-present theme of nature that Debussy so often turned to.
Another performance that takes inspiration from Debussy is Lucy Parham’s ‘Reverie – the life and loves of Claude Debussy’, which was originally put together for the composer’s 150th birthday in 2012. The narrative of the Reverie follows Debussy from his first success with the Prix de Rome in 1885 to his death in 1918, and heavily features the composer’s popular solo piano works. Over the top of these pieces are read the words of Debussy – extracts from his journal, his love letters, and recollections of his contemporaries about the man himself. It makes for an evocative, enthralling performance: not only is Lucy Parham a gorgeous pianist, with a sensitivity of touch and an innate grasp of the colour of Debussy’s music, but the atmosphere created by the intensity of the language used creates a hushed, almost sacred atmosphere.
Both ensembles will be performing at St George’s Bristol in the coming weeks: Debussy’s Mirrored Ensemble on the 26th of October, and Lucy Parham and actor Simon Russell Beale on the 4th of November as part of the Bristol Keyboard Festival. To get you in the mood, why not explore some of the music yourself? Have a listen to ‘Little Shepherd’ by Debussy’s Mirrored Ensemble and an extract from ‘Reverie’ – and then come along and immerse yourself in the live performances for celebrate 100 years of extraordinary music.