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Proses lyriques, L90
author of text

'Debussy: Songs, Vol. 2' (CDA67883)
Debussy: Songs, Vol. 2
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'The Sea' (CDA66165)
The Sea
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No 1: De rêve  La nuit a des douceurs de femmes!
No 2: De grève  Sur la mer les crépuscules tombent
No 3: De fleurs  Dans l'ennui si désolément vert
No 4: De soir  Dimanche sur les villes

Proses lyriques, L90
The great majority of Debussy’s songs are settings of regular verse, but over a six-year period between 1892 and 1898 he confined his song settings to nine pieces of free verse and prose. The whole question of setting these two media was much debated during this decade, building on Gounod’s preface to his opera George Dandin in which he claimed that: ‘The infinite variety of stress, in prose, offers the composer quite new horizons which will save him from monotony and uniformity.’ In 1892–3, just before starting on Pelléas et Mélisande, Debussy set to music four free-verse poems of his own whose titles—‘Of dreams’, ‘Of the shore’, ‘Of flowers’, ‘Of evening’—form a kind of of aesthetic biography of the composer. It is typical of his lifelong struggle to reconcile his desire for freedom with the demands of structure that, in the first song, the dream is not expressed through some vague, amorphous mush, but almost entirely in two- and four-bar phrases. The piano-writing is denser than in Fêtes galantes I, nearer not only to Debussy’s earlier Baudelaire settings but to the piano parts of Wagner vocal scores, which the horn calls here also bring to mind. In the midst of the free verse, Debussy plants two alexandrines, the second of which—‘Les chevaliers sont morts sur le chemin du Grâal!’ (‘The Knights have died in their quest for the Grail!’)—may be taken as a further Wagnerian reference. In De grève the mischievous little waves provoke the arrival of disruptive whole-tone harmonies, calmed by the sympathetic moon, while the slow, sad chords that open De fleurs recall the similar expanding and contracting shape of the first chords of Debussy’s cantata La damoiselle élue—in both cases, the atmosphere is of a placid resignation far from the hubbub of the material world. The final song, De soir, is in two contrasting parts: a cheerful Sunday with children playing (at the words ‘Des rondes obstinées’ Debussy quotes in the piano’s left hand the tune of a singing game in which one girl represents the tower while the others turn round her); and then a prayer to the Virgin. Throughout, we hear the sounds of bells.

from notes by Roger Nichols © 2012

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Details for CDA67883 track 5
De grève
Recording date
5 May 2011
Recording venue
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Debussy: Songs, Vol. 2 (CDA67883)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: April 2012
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