Debussy died March 26, 1918
The Station Symphony Orchestra:
Nocturne, "Sirens" (With Female Chorus)
This is one of a set of three Orchestral Nocturnes, the general title of which, said the Composer, was to be understood as having a decorative meaning... as signifying in the fullest manner diversified impressions.
His verbal suggestion for the third Nocturne, Sirens, was: "The sea with its unpausing rhythm. Amid the waves, silvered by moonbeams, are heard the laughter and mysterious song of passing Sirens".
Besides the usual Orchestra (including Harps, but not Trombones), Debussy employs a small chorus of women, who sing wordless music suggesting the sirens' song.
Sarah Fischer (Mezzo-Soprano) with Orchestra Ballade of the Women of Paris... Francois Villon
(Picture on page 643)
Prelude, Procession and Dance Air ("The Prodigal Son")
Rondes de Printemps ("Roundelays of Spring")
At the head of this Spring piece Debussy gives the lines which we may freely translate:-
"Long live May, welcome to May,
Flaunting her wild streamers.
So much for the spirit of these Roundelays".
As for the music itself, it is typical of Debussy - vague and reserved, but rich with delicately-woven, subtly-shaded strands. It reveals life in a different manner from its revelation in the more definite and clear-cut music of the great German classical and romantic schools. Debussy's manner of communication here, as elsewhere, is more suggestive than outspoken.
Most of the piece is made out of many little wisps of tune constantly heard against an ever-changing background, all delicately played by Woodwind, String and Harps. Big climaxes, with long tunes loudly declaimed, would be quite out of the picture, so that even at the most strenuous moments, the louder Brass is absent and Percussion is restrained.
Les Cloches (The Bells)
Prelude, "L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune" ("The Afternoon of a Faun")
The faun is a sort of minor God Pan, a rural half-deity, the upper part that of a man, with horns, and the lower part that of a goat, with hoofs and tail.
The faun is resting slumberously in the heat of the day, and half dreaming. There drift through his mind thoughts of the Nymphs he has pursued with his affections; he reflects on the woods, the pools and the meadows where he has sought them, and, at last, vaingloriously and sacrilegiously, he wonders whether the time may not come when upon the slopes of Etna lie may perhaps meet the great goddess Venus herself. With a start he realises his sacrilege, and dreads punishment.
This piece of Debussy's exhibits at its highest development his 'impressionistic' manner. It is all very vague and indefinite and hazy, as the picture of a summer afternoon should be. It glows with sunlight and palpitates with heat. The orchestral colouring is wonderfully delicate; the thought extremely poetical.
This is a setting for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Women's Chorus and Orchestra of Rossetti's poem of the Blessed Damozel in Heaven, who waits and prays for her lover to join her. Debussy set the poem in its French translation (by Sarazin), and the English text used necessarily differs, very slightly, from the original, though not so much but that listeners with a volume of Rossetti at hand may find its use add to their pleasure.
The following description does not pretend to be a detailed analysis. An attempt to follow such whilst hearing the work would be ill rewarded.
(1) There is first a long Orchestral Introduction. The material of this is all significant, but rather than trying to memorize it, one should give oneself up to absorbing the mood and atmosphere of the work. At length a simple melody is heard in the Flute. This is the tune especially associated with the Damozel. It leads to:
(2) The Chorus enters with the opening words, "The Blessed Damozel leaned out from the golden bar of heaven." 'A Reciter' (Mezzo-Soprano) enters with the words, Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem. The Chorus re-enters at "Around her lovers new met": and Chorus and Reciter continue the description.
(3) This is the longest section, representing seven stanzas of the poem. The Blessed Damozel (Soprano) soliloquizes throughout, beginning "I wish that he were come to me, For he will come".
After the words "the dear Mother... Herself shall bring us... To Him round whom all souls kneel," a climax is reached at "there will I ask... for him and me .... Only to live.... for ever now Together, he and I".
(4) Chorus: "She gazed and listened..." and then said: (the Damozel) "All this is when he comes".
(5) "The light thrilled to her, filled with angels... She laid her face between her hands and wept".
Nocturne, 'Fetes' ('Festivities')
This is the first of the three Nocturnes, one of which opened this programme.
In "Festivities" Debussy intended to make a musical picture of "the restless dancing-rhythm of the atmosphere interspersed with sudden flashes of light". "There is also," he said, "an incidental procession (a dazzling imaginary vision) passing through and mingling with the aerial revelry; but the background of uninterrupted festival is persistent, with its blending of music and luminous dust participating in the universal rhythm of all things".
Thus the aim is to give, in terms of sound, impressions of the rhythmic effects of light, of cloud-formations, and the sea's undulations.
The Station Symphony