23/03/2018 Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Pianist magazine Editor Erica Worth on the allure of Debussy’s piano music

9d1a26b3-4486-49fa-aecf-a26ec6ab26f8

 

The Arabesque No 1 was the first piece by Debussy I ever learned. My mother loved to hear me play it. She said it made her feel good, that it calmed her, and that it made her feel she was entering into another world. I think many of us pianists can relate to the words of next issue’s cover artist, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, who has lived and breathed the composer; for him, Debussy is a ‘huge cosmos’.

 

I still have the Arabesque under my fingers, and getting it there took a long time and hard work, even if it’s a fairly restrained and classical piece within the context of Debussy’s output. I remember practising the persistent three-against-two rhythm religiously, making sure that there were no protruding thumb sounds in the floating yet deceptively tricky triplet melody. No matter how much I wanted to play around with a ritenuto here and stringendo there, my teacher would insist that I stuck to a tempo while learning the notes (‘Freedom to come’, she’d say).

 

In later years, I spent hours and hours on Poissons d’or. But who can ever perfect that? The pianissimo demisemiquaver rumblings needed to be silky smooth, so I’d practise in all types of rhythmic patterns, as Graham Fitch often recommends. The three-stave score took some getting used to – but doing so was a huge help when I came to study the complex fugue in Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata. There was so much to work on in every single bar: the marcatos, the staccatos, the phrase markings, the sforzando trills (help!). And then all the musical markings such as this intoxicating example: ‘Capricieux et souple’. The swoops and twitches of those large golden carp in a world of tonal ambiguity had to make musical sense.

 

In this 100th anniversary year of the composer’s death, don't forget to pick up a copy of Pianist issue 101, out on 30 March, where our experts give you plenty of advice, as my teachers did for me. There are three Debussy scores, with two of them – La fille aux cheveux de lin and the Etude No 11 – given in-depth lessons. Mark Tanner discusses how to produce a rich tonal palette (essential for playing Debussy) and John Evans turns to three pianists well-known for Debussy, and asks them how they make sense of the scores, just as I did as a serious student. At least as much as any composer, he wrote for his performers; he took pleasure and inspiration from the inexhaustible depth of possibilities that a piano affords, and I hope you will do the same.

 

P.S. If you’re really Debussy-crazy, check out our Play Debussy digital special!

And listen to our Debussy Spotify Playlist

Finally, before I sign off, take a look at this rather ‘different’ approach to Clair de Lune – the wonderful Alexandre Tharaud strokes the keys whilst dancer Joann Bourgeois floats to the music...

 

 

 

 

 

Back to News

23/03/2018 Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Mindfulness in Music: Notes on finding life’s rhythm

Pianist masterclass contributor Mark Tanner gives us an insight into his latest release, 'Mindfulness in ...


5 tips on how to stay focused during practice

Struggling with procrastination? Here's our professional advice on how to stay focused during practise. ...


Yamaha CFX goes centre stage at 2018 Ribble Valley International Piano Week

Ribble Valley is offering all budding concert pianists the rare chance to perform on a Yamaha CFX in a ...


French pianist Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch returns with her stunning new release, 'Époques'

Following a break of almost three years, the London-based, award-winning French pianist and composer returns ...


Other News

Dominic Ferris: "Me And My Piano" LIVE AT ZÉDEL on 2nd August 2018

Acclaimed Steinway pianist and singer Dominic Ferris returns to Soho, London, with top record producer Nick ...


Pianists at the Proms

A strong line-up of piano stars bring concerto classics from Mozart to Shostakovich to the Royal Albert Hall. ...


REVIEW: Rachmaninoff by Ching-Yun Hu

Donald Hunt gives 5 star praise to pianist Ching-Yun Hu ...


The Piano, The Pianists, The Proms

Classical pianist & columnist Daniel Johnson highlights a selection of remarkable BBC Proms programmes from ...