CLAUDE DEBUSSY - Petite Suite, L. 65 (1886-1889)
Debussy excelled at piano duet composition, often sketching symphonic works in a form for four hands. While some works remained in this preliminary state, some others were later orchestrated, just like Petite Suite. First performed by the composer and Jacques Durand in March 1889, this work was not exceptionally well-received by its first audience. Fortunately, it gradually gained more attention afterwards. In 1907, Henri Büsser, who was gifted in orchestration, arranged it for orchestra, further popularising the work.
Composed shortly after Debussy had completed his formal musical training, Petite Suite has appealing melodies, contrasting greatly with the majority of his later compositions which explored highly contemporary harmonies and colours. Still, some of the most attractive characteristics of Debussy’s Impressionist music are present, including the use of the exotic Eastern whole-tone scale, and the fluid and changeable rhythm.
This suite contains four short and delightful character pieces, with the first two being inspired by poems of Paul Verlaine’s collection Fêtes galantes (1869). In the first movement, En bateau, the gently swaying rhythm and the simple lyrical melody that floats above rising arpeggios evoke a peaceful night on a quiet river. Cortège, another poem from that collection, pictures an aristocratic lady accompanied by her pet monkey and servant. Debussy’s setting suggests a procession but without much elegance.
Both the movements that followed by lack literary reference. Menuet is the most intimate and personal movement of this work. Register shifts are introduced here, allowing us to appreciate the fast changes in tone quality. The finale, Ballet, has a strong rhythmic drive and percussive quality. This movement, which has features of Javanese gamelan music, might perhaps be the most carefree music of Debussy.