The trills and cadenza-like passage-work that open L’isle joyeuse
were described as ‘a summons’ by the composer. The whole piece is one long crescendo, and its tremendous energy needs to be held slightly in check, as notated by Debussy, before the final outburst of unbounded joy. For me, no one has described this work better than the pianist Marguerite Long, who studied it with Debussy: ‘It is a gorgeous vision, inspired with joy and prodigious exuberance: a “Feast of Rhythm” in which, on the vast waves of its modulations, the virtuoso must maintain, under the sails of his imagination, the precision of his technique.’ Debussy’s inspiration, besides Emma and their trip to the Isle of Jersey, was Watteau’s L’Embarquement pour Cythère
(Cythera, an island in Greece, was, for the ancient world, the birthplace of Venus, goddess of love). Other than the joy given to him by his daughter Chouchou, this was probably the happiest period of his entire life.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2012