Claude Debussy Nocturnes Maurice Ravel Piano Concerto in G major/ Pavane pour une infante défunte Claude DebussyLa mer Conductor Claudio Abbado/ Piano Martha Argerich/ Orchestra Mozart
Co-production Ferrara Musica - Orchestra Mozart
French Music and French Painting
As one of the most influential conductors of our time, Claudio Abbado has made an indelible mark on the European music scene. Aside from his musical activities, he has enriched the continent’s musical life by founding and supporting orchestras, concert promoters and festivals. Protecting the future of music is a matter of great importance to him, as is the support of independent and artistically ambitious ensembles. This commitment has resulted in a number of significant orchestras, including the MCO and Orchestra Mozart in Bologna. For April 2011, Abbado has invited both ensembles to play together under his baton in Ferrara (14 April), Bologna (17 April) and Reggio Emilia (18 April).
The MCO made its Bologna debut in 2008 with its Principal Conductor Daniel Harding. Since then, the orchestra has appeared regularly there. 2011 is its first invitation from the Orchestra Mozart, which calls Bologna its home.
The programme has been planned to correspond with the exhibition “From Modigliani to Dali: Paris in the 20s”, which has been planned for autumn 2011 in the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara. Each work on the programme shows a connection between music and painting.
During his lifetime, Claude Debussy was known as a great art lover, an expert on the contemporary trends of symbolism and impressionism. Of the premiere of Debussy’s Nocturnes on 9 November 1900, Gaston Carraud, critic of the paper La Liberté, wrote: “Like the painter with the colours of the prism, guided by a fine and very secure taste, he understands how to mix harmonies and sound-shadings, according to ever-changing relationships.” In his compositions, Debussy tried to capture moods, situations and impressions, similar to the Impressionist painters whose work fascinated him throughout his life. He used the term “Nocturnes” in a non-traditional sense (the word usually refers to emotional, elegiac compositions for piano); rather, he associated “impressions” and “the play of light” with the word, as he described in the programme notes to the premiere. The three pieces are similar to paintings by Claude Monet or Édouard Manet, in that Debussy concentrated on depicting very different moods: clouds passing (Nuages), a festival in Bois de Boulogne (Fêtes) and the bewitching song of the sirens (Sirènes). With Nocturnes, Debussy established himself as a master of orchestral colour.
Debussy’s “Three symphonic sketches,” better known by La Mer, also have a very concrete relationship to the visual arts: the score, published in 1905, bears a detail from Katshushika Hokusai’s woodcut The Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six views of Fuji (1823-1829) on the title page. Like many composers before him, after studying Beethoven’s symphonic works, Debussy experienced serious problems with the genre. Nonetheless, the compositions display clear references to traditional symphonic dramaturgy (slow introduction, scherzo and finale). Debussy could not follow the success of Nocturnes with La Mer; clearly, the audience had “wrong” expectations about the piece. The sketches (From dawn to midday on the sea, Play of the waves, Dialogue between wind and waves) were taken as a literal avowal of Debussy’s passion for the sea and were mocked.
Maurice Ravel is the other important representative of Impressionism in music. Debussy and Ravel were bound together by an ambivalent relationship, in which the two acknowledged each others’ art, but mostly ignored each other. The works programmed for this concert present very different moods.
Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major bears a clear connection to Mozart. Ravel used the Classical style as an inspiration while incorporating elements of jazz and blues, and Spanish and Basque folk music. The first movement presents a surreal circus ambiance. The premiere took place in 1932 under the composer’s baton. This concerto, which was obviously the product of great effort, is today a beloved showpiece.
Ravel described his Pavane pour une infante défunte thusly: “It is not an elegy for a dead child, but the imagining of a pavane, one that a little princess, like the one in the Spanish court Velásquez painted, might have danced.” The composer, then twenty-four, dedicated the composition, originally conceived of as a solo piano work, to Madame La Princesse E. de Polignac, one of the important figures of Parisian cultural life.