Just as ‘Pagodes’ was his first Oriental piece, so ‘La soirée dans Grenade’ was the first of Debussy’s evocations of Spain—that preternatural embodiment of an ‘imaginary Andalusia’ which would inspire Manuel de Falla, the native Spaniard, to go back to his country and create a true modern Spanish music based on Debussyan principles. Debussy’s personal acquaintance with Spain was virtually non-existent (he had spent a day just over the border at San Sebastian) and it is possible that one model for the piece was Ravel’s Habanera. Yet he wrote of this piece (to his friend Pierre Louÿs, to whom it was dedicated), ‘if this isn’t the music they play in Granada, so much the worse for Granada!’—and there is no debate about the absolute authenticity of Debussy’s use of Spanish idioms here. Falla himself pronounced it ‘characteristically Spanish in every detail’. ‘La soirée dans Grenade’ is founded on an ostinato that echoes the rhythm of the habanera and is present almost throughout. Beginning and ending in almost complete silence, this dark nocturne of warm summer nights builds powerfully to its climaxes. The melodic material ranges from a doleful Moorish chant with a distinctly oriental character to a stamping, vivacious dance-measure, taking in brief suggestions of guitar strumming and perfumed Impressionist haze. There is even a hint of castanets near the end. The piece fades out in a coda that seems to distil all the melancholy of the Moorish theme and a last few distant chords of the guitar.
‘Jardins sous la pluie’ is based on the children’s song ‘Nous n’rons plus au bois’ (We shan’t go to the woods): its original 1894 form was in fact entitled Quelques aspects de ‘Nous n’rons plus au bois’. The two versions are really two distinct treatments of the same set of ideas, but in ‘Jardins sous la pluie’ Estampes the earlier piece has been entirely rethought. The whole conception is more impressionistic, and subtilized. The teeming semiquaver motion is more all-pervasive, the tunes (for Debussy has added a second children’s song for treatment, ‘Do, do, l’enfant do’) more elusive and tinged sometimes with melancholy or nostalgia. The ending of the piece is entirely new. What it loses, perhaps, in child-like brashness the music gains in poetry and technical focus.
from notes by Malcolm MacDonald © 2010
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