Hyperion Records

Suite bergamasque, L82
circa 1890; revised for publication in 1905

'Debussy: Suite bergamasque, Estampes, Children's Corner & Pour le piano' (CDA66495)
Debussy: Suite bergamasque, Estampes, Children's Corner & Pour le piano
'Debussy: Piano Music' (CDS44061/3)
Debussy: Piano Music
MP3 £15.00FLAC £15.00ALAC £15.00Buy by post £41.97 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDS44061/3  3CDs Boxed set (at a special price) — Archive Service  
'Debussy: Solo Piano Music' (CDA67898)
Debussy: Solo Piano Music
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £10.50 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 44.1 kHz £9.00ALAC 24-bit 44.1 kHz £9.00 CDA67898  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Caprices & Fantasies' (CDH55130)
Caprices & Fantasies
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55130  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Harold Bauer – The complete recordings' (APR7302)
Harold Bauer – The complete recordings
'Harriet Cohen – The complete solo studio recordings' (APR7304)
Harriet Cohen – The complete solo studio recordings
'Moura Lympany – The HMV Recordings, 1947-1952' (APR6011)
Moura Lympany – The HMV Recordings, 1947-1952
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £10.50 APR6011  2CDs for the price of 1  
'Percy Grainger – The complete 78-rpm solo recordings' (APR7501)
Percy Grainger – The complete 78-rpm solo recordings
'Stephen Hough's French Album' (CDA67890)
Stephen Hough's French Album
Movement 1: Prélude
Track 7 on CDA67898 [4'20]
Track 1 on CDA66495 [4'10] Archive Service
Track 1 on CDS44061/3 CD1 [4'10] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price) — Archive Service
Movement 2: Menuet
Track 8 on CDA67898 [4'30]
Track 2 on CDA66495 [3'44] Archive Service
Track 2 on CDS44061/3 CD1 [3'44] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price) — Archive Service
Movement 3: Clair de lune
Track 9 on CDA67898 [5'36]
Track 11 on CDH55130 [4'22] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 3 on CDA66495 [4'32] Archive Service
Track 3 on CDS44061/3 CD1 [4'32] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price) — Archive Service
Track 4 on APR7302 CD2 [4'29] 3CDs
Track 16 on APR7501 CD4 [4'24] 5CDs
Track 3 on APR7304 CD3 [4'26] 3CDs
Track 22 on APR6011 CD1 [4'48] 2CDs for the price of 1
Movement 4: Passepied
Track 10 on CDA67898 [4'01]
Track 4 on CDA66495 [3'35] Archive Service
Track 4 on CDS44061/3 CD1 [3'35] 3CDs Boxed set (at a special price) — Archive Service

Suite bergamasque, L82
The Suite bergamasque has always been a favourite of mine, ever since I first played it at the age of fourteen. Its third movement is Debussy’s biggest hit, Clair de lune, but the rest is also very atmospheric and it makes a wonderful whole. It was written fifteen years before it was published in 1905, by which time Debussy’s style had changed considerably. He thus insisted on writing the date 1890 on the title page. The whole set went through many revisions and even changes of titles—Clair de lune first being called Promenade sentimentale (a good thing he changed it!), and the final Passepied starting life as Pavane.

With three movements having titles borrowed from the Baroque, it might be thought that the main influence of this suite was the music of that period—especially that of Couperin and Rameau for whom Debussy had the greatest admiration and from whom he liked to trace his musical lineage. However the biggest clue lies rather in the adjective ‘bergamasque’. This links it to the world of the Commedia dell’arte and also to the poet Verlaine, whose poem Clair de lune alludes to ‘masques et bergamasques’ and an idyllic Arcadia (Debussy set this poem twice to music). Verlaine’s cycle, Fêtes galantes, was in turn inspired by the elegant and frivolous world portrayed by the painter Jean-Antoine Watteau.

The opening Prélude is marked Moderato (tempo rubato), and it is important to give it the requested rhythmic freedom. Debussy, like most French composers, insisted on being faithful to his score, but realized that after exactitude comes talent. It has some beautiful changes of colour, and a great sense of space. There is an almost direct quote from Fauré’s setting of Clair de lune in bar 33. The Menuet requires good contrast between the staccato and legato touches as well as the ability to create a fanciful mood. The long sustained passage of fifteen bars before the coda has a great sense of sweep and should be played as one continuous line.

What would Debussy say if he knew his Clair de lune had been used in the soundtrack of at least fourteen major films and even in a TV commercial for Lexus automobiles (mutilated beyond belief)? It made him mad enough to be labelled an ‘Impressionist’ composer. Of all the pieces recorded here, you could probably apply that adjective most appropriately to this masterpiece, yet it still doesn’t seem quite right. I prefer how the French pianist Jacques Février described it: ‘The first to date of the great sonorous landscapes of Debussy.’ Its hushed stillness at the beginning is almost unbearably beautiful. Thinking how to interpret it, I am reminded of what Debussy said about metronome marks and why he so rarely used them: that they are all right for one bar, ‘like roses for the span of a morning’. Debussy told the pianist Maurice Dumesnil to use a general flexibility in this piece, and not to confuse the harmonies by using too much pedal. The harmony in fact is the melody here—it is not just a pretty tune. The C flat that is introduced the last time the theme appears must pierce us with its feeling of regret.

The Passepied is not at all in the standard Baroque metre for this dance (3/8), but it does bring us back to the aristocratic, noble colour of the other movements. Its main difficulty lies in playing the left hand staccato while phrasing the right hand (similar to Chabrier’s Idylle and Reynaldo Hahn’s song Quand je fus pris au pavillon). Debussy evidently held back this work from the publishers for months because he wasn’t happy with the last few bars. I think he finally got them perfect.

from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2012

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