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Première Rhapsodie

1910; L116

Debussy established himself as France’s leading composer with his atmospherically languid orchestral work Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, first performed in 1894, followed by his opera Pelléas et Mélisande and his quasi-symphonic La mer. Almost exactly 15 years after the historic premiere of L’après-midi, Debussy returned to this soundworld with his Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano. He had then recently joined the Paris Conservatoire’s advisory board, an appointment instigated by its then director Gabriel Fauré. Debussy, who had never considered himself a happy part of that establishment, had been “dumbfounded” when offered the position; nonetheless he accepted this honour, not least since he was then hard up financially.

Debussy’s duties included composing two pieces for the Conservatoire’s annual clarinet competition—one of them a showpiece, the other for sight reading. He began the showpiece, the Première Rhapsodie, in December 1909, finishing it a month later. Designed to test the technique of advanced clarinettists, the piece ranges from the sun-drenched world of L’après-midi d’un faune to the more sparkling scherzando style of his piano piece L’isle joyeuse; it also shares something of the easy charm of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet, composed some two years earlier. On 14 July 1910, Debussy joined the jury to judge his Rhapsodie’s performances by 11 candidates. Six months later the Rhapsodie received its official premiere, performed by its dedicatee Prosper Mimart on 16 January 1911 in the Salle Gaveau in Paris. Enthralled by the performance, Debussy was moved to suggest it was one of the most pleasing works he had ever composed—a judgement to which many clarinettists have since concurred.

from notes by Daniel Jaffé © 2014


Glinka, Milhaud & Prokofiev: Clarinet Sonatas
Studio Master: SIGCD384Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD384 track 1

Recording date
24 May 2013
Recording venue
Wyastone Leys Concert Hall, Monmouthshire, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Nicholas Parker
Recording engineer
Mike Hatch & Andrew Mellor
Hyperion usage
  1. Glinka, Milhaud & Prokofiev: Clarinet Sonatas (SIGCD384)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: June 2014
    Download only
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