Work: Préludes, Book 2
About This Work
The works in Debussy's second book of Préludes (1910-1913) are similar in intent to those of Book I| (1907-1910). Several of them look ahead to Debussy's later style, in which the composer's earlier impressionistic, almost Romantic poetry was
supplanted by a greater concentration upon technique and neoclassical objectivity. In addition, perhaps because Debussy's style is so prone to mannerism, several of the Préludes in Book II bear strong similarities to those from the earlier set.
1. Brouillards (Mists): Quietly teeming, delicate, and atmospheric, the texture is dominated by sweeping arpeggios that require a high degree of control on the part of the pianist. Harmonically, the work is quite advanced, with a strong suggestion of polytonality.
2. Feuilles mortes (Dead Leaves): The main theme of this Prélude is so similar to that of Les sons et les parfums tournement dans l'air du soir (Sounds and Scents Mix in the Evening Air) from Book I, it seems an intentional parody. The overall mood likewise recalls that of the earlier work.
3. La Puerta del Vino (The Gateway of the Alhambra Palace): One of the most effective Préludes of the set, this Spanish-inflected work has the rhythm of a habanera throughout.
4. Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses (The Fairies are Exquisite Dancers): The wispy, delicate figuration of this work calls for extraordinary facility and lightness on the part of the pianist.
5. Bruyères (Heaths): Similar in mood and style to La fille aux cheveux de lin from Book I, Bruyères, a depiction of an idyllic English landscape, is also one of the least demanding Préludes from a technical standpoint.
6. Général Lavine -- eccentric: In this Prélude, Debussy portrays the famous American juggler with enormous wit, making ingenious use of incisive rhythms and sudden contrasts. Perhaps reflecting common "showbiz" origins, it is similar in mood and style to Minstrels from Book I.
7. La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune (The Terrace of the Audiences of Moonlight): This subtle Prélude is based on a phrase from the French children's song "Au clair de la lune." The many artfully constructed mood changes are difficult to convey and require great sensitivity on the part of the pianist.
8. Ondine: Debussy depicts the legendary water sprite with a subtly changing atmosphere, as in the previous Prélude. Typical "water-like" arpeggiated figuration alternates with scherzando outbursts.
9. Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq., P.P.M.P.C. (after Dickens' Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club): The protagonist of Dickens' novel is musically personified by imitations of whistling, echoes of an English music hall, and a quote from God Save the Queen.
10. Canope: This Prélude, similar in style and content to Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fût (And the Moon Descends on the Ruined Temple) from the second set of Images (1907), is a mournful depiction of an Egyptian burial urn.
11. Tièrces alternées (Alternating Thirds): This is a brilliant study in thirds that anticipates the style of the Études (1915). Debussy achieves great effect through a subtle rise and fall of dynamics, using a minimum of musical material.
12. Feux d'artifice (Fireworks): The last of Debussy's Préludes is a musical portrait of a fireworks display over Paris. Brilliant arpeggios, trills, and rapid chord passages characterize this, the most technically challenging of the Préludes. The work comes to an effective close with a distant quote of La Marseillaise sounded over a hushed tremolo.
-- Steven Coburn, All Music Guide
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