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En blanc et noir (Claude Debussy)

Date

1916

Description

En blanc et noir (In White and Black), for two pianos.

1. Avec emportement – 2. Lent. Sombre – 3. Scherzando

Text

Debussy was at the seaside when he completed En blanc et noir, premiered in Paris on 22 January 1916 in Princesse de Polignac’s salon by Walter Rummel and Thérèse Chaigneau-Rummel. In July 1915, he had moved to Pourville to escape the oppressive climate of the capital. Already suffering from cancer, of which he would eventually die, he transposed his fears, the horror of war and the hope of a French victory in the second piece. At the end of a stunning musical battle, a clear, innocent melody – a symbol of the French spirit – triumphs over Luther’s chorale Ein’ feste Burg. Originally, the score was to be entitled Caprices en blanc et noir, in reference to Goya’s engravings, which alternate between social satire and fantasy visions. In a letter to Robert Godet, Debussy suggests another pictorial correspondence: “These pieces need to draw their colour, their emotion simply from the piano, like the ‘greys’ of Velázquez.” Moreover, he places an epigraph at the beginning of each piece. For the first: “He who stays in his place/ and does not dance/ quietly admits/ to a disgrace.” The four lines, borrowed from Gounod’s opera Roméo et Juliette, evoke Debussy’s illness. For the second piece, Debussy chose the last stanza of François Villon’s Ballade contre les ennemis de la France; for the third, “Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain”, the title of the third of his Chansons de Charles d’Orléans (1898). The non-descriptive visual and poetic associations are intended to stimulate the listener’s imagination. En blanc et noir also testifies to the stylistic evolution of the composer, who, through his harmony, his prodigiously mobile rhythms and his increasingly unpredictable language, continued to venture along paths hitherto unexplored.

    Person - 1
  • DEBUSSY, Claude (1862-1918)
  • Themes - 2
  • Piano – Le répertoire pour piano à l’orée du XXe siècle
  • Piano – Musique pour deux pianos