Category Archives: Claude Debussy

Bastille Day Quiz

Saturday is Bastille Day, the national holiday of France. Take our Bastille Day quiz, and test your knowledge of Debussy, Saint-Saëns and Bizet!

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And if you’re still in a test-taking mood, try our venerable choral quiz.

Debussy on Mercury

I don’t know if you’ve followed the Messenger mission, but it’s the first spacecraft dedicated to orbiting Mercury – our innermost planet. It was launched in 2004, and just a week ago made it into orbit.

The first pictures arrived yesterday, and I was fascinated by the choice of Messenger’s first photographic return: “Debussy and Its Hundreds of Miles of Raysdebussy_2.jpg.” “Debussy,” in this case is a crater, with prominent rays that extend hundreds of kilometers out.

Pieces of Spring No. 16

Welcome May, and Classical Minnesota Public Radio’s Pieces of Spring.

Every day, we’ll play a springtime classic. Visit our online playlist to find each day’s spring piece or, in the Twin Cities, listen to 99.5 every morning at 8. Enter the correct title here, and you have another chance to win fresh flowers delivered to your door for a year! Check back here every day to see if you got it right.

Yesterday’s piece was Spring Rounds (Rondes du printemps), from

Claude Debussy’s Images for orchestra. Debussy set out to capture the spirit of three countries: England (“Gigues”), Spain (“Iberia”), and France (“Rondes de Printemps” or “Spring Rounds”). On the first page of “Rondes de Printemps,” Debussy wrote, “Long live May! Welcome to May with its wild banner.” These lines come from a 15th-century Italian poem about May-Day celebrations, but Debussy ensures that the music is unmistakably French by quoting two French tunes, including one of Debussy’s favorite nursery tunes, “Nous n’irons plus au bois,” a melody he incorporated into a number of compositions.

Not clear on the concept?

Recently read this on, in which Frank Oteri observes people walking out of concerts:

“I wonder what prompts people with such tender constitutions to attend concerts in the first place. Admittedly, I’ve witnessed these impromptu leave-takings more frequently during a piece of new music injected into an otherwise standard repertoire program. But last week I saw someone rush to the doors during a New York Philharmonic performance of Debussy’s ‘Images.’ Debussy can drive ’em away — who knew! And a few summers ago I also witnessed a mass exodus during Brian Ferneyhough’s opera ‘Shadowtime.’ Didn’t the folks who bought tickets for this show know what they were getting into? … If you live in a city, you’re bombarded with all sorts of sonic disturbances … And even if you live in the ‘burbs, you still occasionally have to deal with crying babies, barking dogs, etc. So what kind of hermetically-sealed environment do folks who march out of concerts mid-piece live in that they deem the music to be unduly gnarly?”

Okay, point taken. At my first NYPhil concert 25 years ago, a couple in front of me spent the entire first half synchronizing their Day Planners, oblivious to 45 minutes of Vivaldi and Hindemith unfolding on stage. So much for those erudite New York audiences. I assume there will always be those who are clueless and unmoved by the music no matter where they are.

But beyond that, perhaps people walk out of concerts not because the contemporary piece they are hearing disturbs their quietude, but because it’s bad art, and has nothing to say to them. I’m a patient listener with a degree in music. I have an open mind, open ears, and lots of exposure to and context with contemporary music (for three years I was the United States representative to the International Rostrum of Composers at UNESCO in Paris). But I still hear lots of music on a regular basis that makes me want to leave the hall. If anything, I wish audiences felt less stigma about doing just that, and more freedom to vote with their feet.

If it was simply a matter of being averse to “sonic disturbances,” people would be leaving movie theaters in droves every night of the week at Dolby THX suburban multiplexes across the land. But be it cinema or concert hall (or radio station for that matter), they’ll stay — if the art that’s presented to them has a compelling story to tell, one that makes them so engaged that they can’t wait for the next scene, the next movement, the next chapter. Art that makes them excitedly anticipate: “What happens next?”

So: what keeps you in your seat?

It bears repeating

Recently, a friend approached me with a request. He said he�d become obsessed with Debussy�s Claire de Lune, had been working his way through all the recordings of it he could find�and could I recommend my own favorites?

I threw the question out to my colleagues at MPR and got some lovely responses. Rex Levang and Brian Newhouse suggested Ivan Moravec (unfortunately, hard to find), and Melissa Ousley chimed in with Zoltan Kocsis and Samson Francois. Rex also mentioned that the recent Leon Fleischer recording (which marked his return to 2-hand repertoire after a forty-year struggle with focal dystonia in his right hand) was pretty special. Michael Barone added that organist Virgil Fox�s �organization� of Claire de Lune is beautifully nuanced.

This conversation led Brian to ask: why ARE there so many versions of this piece? What is it about Claire de Lune – or any piece – that inspires such attentions?

And, tangentially, what does it say when the same performer RE-records something? I�m thinking of Yo Yo Ma�s releases (1990 and 1998) of the Bach suites, but there are many other examples.

Anyone care to weigh in?