Debussy, Pierné, Duparc: French Songs


  • Composer(s): Claude Debussy, Gabriel Pierné, Henri Duparc
  • Editor: Giulio Marazia
  • Edition: Da Vinci Edition
  • Format: A4 - Paperback
  • Genre: Orchestra, Vocal
  • Instrumentation: Orchestra, Soprano
  • ISMN: 9790216219136
  • Pages: 80
  • Period: Romantic
  • Publication year: 2022
SKU: DV 22033 Category:

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Claude Debussy: (b St Germain-en-Laye, 22 Aug 1862; d Paris, 25 March 1918). French composer. One of the most important musicians of his time, his harmonic innovations had a profound influence on generations of composers. He made a decisive move away from Wagnerism in his only complete opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and in his works for piano and for orchestra he created new genres and revealed a range of timbre and colour which indicated a highly original musical aesthetic.

Gabriel Pierné (b Metz, 16 Aug 1863; d Ploujean, Finistère, 17 July 1937). French composer and conductor. His parents were musicians: his baritone father introduced him to singing and his mother to the piano. When Lorraine was annexed by Germany following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the family moved to Paris where Pierné became a student at the Conservatoire. He won premiers prix for organ (at 16, Marmontel's class), harmony (at 17, Durand's class), counterpoint (at 18) and second prix for organ (Franck's class). He was also in Massenet's composition class, and at 19 he won the Prix de Rome for his cantata Edith. After three years in Rome at the Villa Medici, he returned to Paris, to teach at his parents' private school of piano and singing; one of his pupils for piano, Louise Bergon, became his wife in 1890. In that year he succeeded Franck as organist at Ste Clotilde, a post he retained until 1898.

In 1903 he became deputy conductor of the Concerts Colonne. When Edouard Colonne died in 1910 Pierné was appointed principal conductor, remaining president and director of the orchestra until 1933. At the Concerts Colonne he conducted the symphonic repertory of Mozart, Beethoven and Berlioz, he made Franck's works better known, and he conducted first performances of works by leading composers of the time, notably Debussy (Ibéria, Images, Jeux, Chansons de Bilitis and Khamma), Ravel (Une barque sur l'océan, Tzigane, and the first suite from Daphnis et Chloé over a year before the première of the complete ballet) and Roussel (Pour une fête de printemps). For Diaghilev's Ballets Russes he conducted the première of Stravinsky's Firebird. From March 1928 to May 1931 he recorded extensively with the Concerts Colonne orchestra for the French Odéon company, including some interesting Berlioz performances (reissued on CD) and works by Ravel.

While Pierné's principal activity was conducting during the musical season in Paris, entailing at least 48 different programmes a year, he was able to devote himself to composition during the summer months, which he spent with his wife and their three children at their house at Ploujean in Brittany. The period of Pierné’s compositional activity (1880–1936) falls into three distinct periods. The first was dominated by the piano works, mélodies, incidental music and the light early operas. At the threshold of the 20th century he embarked on the ten years of vocal-orchestral frescos, the triptych of oratorios (La croisade des enfants, Les enfants à Bethléem, Saint François d'Assise) which were followed by the Piano Quintet, a work typical of the manner of the second period, on the one hand, and on the other some solid concertante works and other orchestral pieces. The final period, 1916–36, was dominated by the chamber music, the best of the ballet scores (above all Cydalise et le chèvre-pied), the comic opera Fragonard and the Divertissements sur un thème pastoral for orchestra.

Pierné forged a very personal language, classical in form and modern in spirit, balancing technique and individuality, discipline and instinct. From Massenet he learnt the art of melody, and a lightness of touch that is evident in such works as the operatic comedy On ne badine pas avec l'amour, staged in 1910. Meanwhile Franck imbued him with the high consciousness of art, the sense of vast architectural structures and the taste for religiously inspired music, which yielded not only the oratorios, but also instrumental works such as the Paysages franciscains (1919). Pierné was influenced by Saint-Saëns's notion of ‘ars gallica’; he composed a number of works inspired by early French dance forms. He was also open to the style of his contemporaries and was attracted to the exoticism that was much in vogue at the time: oriental scales, pentatonic modes and Spanish-Basque rhythms (for instance, in the second movement of the Quintet). His rostrum at the Concerts Colonne was like an observation post from which he surveyed contemporary musical trends, freely absorbing many of them into his own personal style. That style is pure and refined, incorporating gentle humour and a palpable charm, as well as intermittent gravity and mystical depth. While there is abundant melodic invention, thematic designs tend towards brevity. In terms of form, Pierné shared a preference for cyclical structure and chromatic development. His later style owed something to Debussy's harmonies, to Ravel's luxuriant orchestration, and to Roussel's dynamism.

Pierné was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1925 and was also made a Commandeur of the Légion d'Honneur in 1935. His cousin Paul Pierné (1874–1952) was also a composer.

(Marie Eugène) Henri Duparc [Fouques Duparc],
(b Paris, 21 Jan 1848; d Mont-de-Marsan, 12 Feb 1933). French composer. At the Jesuit College of Vaugirard in Paris he had César Franck as his piano teacher, and while studying law he found time for composition lessons from Franck, writing and in some cases publishing a number of works which he later destroyed. Of five mélodies for voice and piano, published in 1868, he wished only Soupir and Chanson triste preserved; but Sérénade, Romance de Mignon and Le galop were later reclaimed and, though not forming part of the strict canon of the composer’s works, provide interesting evidence of the influences of Gounod, Liszt and Wagner. A duet, La fuite, was later published with the composer’s assent. Of his orchestral essays, a symphonic poem Lénore after Bürger’s ballad, written in 1875, was performed on several occasions at the time, and the nocturne Aux étoiles is all that was eventually preserved of a Poème nocturne performed in 1894. An opera Roussalka based on Pushkin was never finished; when Duparc abandoned composition in 1885, his completed and acknowledged artistic legacy consisted simply of 13 songs composed between 1868 and 1884.