During the last decade of the nineteenth century Claude Debussy was a frequent visitor at the gatherings of writers and artists held on Tuesday evenings at the home of the poet Stéphane Mallarmé. In 1876 Mallarmé had published a poem called ‘L’après-midi d’un faune’ and sixteen years later Debussy, realizing that Mallarmé had been hoping for some kind of theatrical Presentation of his poem, began composing a work described at that stage as ‘Prélude, Interludes et Paraphrase finale’, presumably with the intention of providing some incidental music for such a performance. In the event it was just the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
that materialized but, nonetheless, Mallarmé expressed himself pleased with the way that Debussy’s music brought out the emotion of his poem. It was given its first performance in Paris on 22 December 1894. The conductor on that occasion, Gustave Doret, describes in his memoirs how Debussy had come to his apartment with the proofs of the orchestral score of the piece and had played it through several times on the piano. Doret was amazed at the composer’s ability to reproduce at the keyboard all the orchestral colours and the nuances of the individual instruments, thus creating an apparently perfect interpretation of the work.
Maurice Ravel, who once proclaimed that he would like the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune to be played at his funeral, transcribed it for piano duet in 1910, but the arrangement (recorded here) for two pianos is by Debussy himself and dates from 1895.
from notes by Peter Avis © 1999