In the throes of love for Emma Bardac in 1904, Debussy wrote Masques
and L’isle joyeuse
. The latter is heard frequently; the former deserves to be better known for, in my opinion, it is as great a masterpiece. In July of 1904, Debussy sent his then wife, Lily, to stay with her father in Burgundy so that he could be with his mistress. They fled first to the island of Jersey, staying incognito at the Grand Hôtel, and then to Normandy. Masques
is almost as tragic as L’isle joyeuse
is triumphant. The opening repeated notes are at times muted, at times wildly percussive, giving wonderful splashes of colour. The menacing build-up before the recapitulation is thrilling. At the end the music dissolves, but not before giving us some open fifths in both hands that create the most marvellous atmosphere of something past. One reason why Debussy’s first marriage was falling apart at the time was that it was childless. A month after he wrote this piece, Lily put a bullet in her stomach, where it stayed for the rest of her life. In the scandal that followed Debussy lost many friends.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2012