"The new music are becoming more and more maddening! What are the brains who design it, and what are those who encourage such an art of their applause! - Period sick! " Wrote by Théodore Dubois in 1923, one year before he died. On the opposite of Impressionism pioneers Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) and Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937), Dubois tried to sustain the glory of French romantic music tradition, like his predecessor Gabriel Fauré and César Franck. In the first decade of 20th century, Innovation and tradition coexisted in Paris. However Debussy and Dubois’ music are beyond simply the absolute contration of “new and old”, In the cello sonata, Dubois incorporated innovative composition technique on the traditional fundation. Portraiting modern color and harmony, Debussy’s cello sonata is tribute to French Baroque Music.
Dubois’ cello sonata was composed in 1905, just 10 years before Debussy composed his one, but both music, political, and economic environments were greatly different due to World War II (1014 – 1918). One month after the war, German marched to only 30 kilometers Paris, government relocated to Bordeaux, Debussy went to Pourville, north Normandy. Caused by the war and Debussy’s deteriorated health, his cello sonata début until 1917 in Paris.
Théodore Dubois was born in 1837, studied at the Paris Conservatoire under Ambroise Thomas. He became a man of great power and influence in France after he won the Prix de Rome in 1861, taught harmony (1871 – 91) and composition (1891 – 6) at the Conservatoire, and finally, after AmbroiseThomas, as director of the Conservatoire ( 1896 – 1905). As an organist, Dubois was the Choirmaster at the Church Madeleine in 1868, and in 1877, succeeding Camille Saint-Saëns as organist. Dubois was profific in all genres music composition, but mostly successful in choral and organ works. The Sonata for cello and piano in D Major was premièred in December 10, 1905 by professors of conservatoire – the cellist Jules Loeb and the pianist Louis Diémer in Concerts A. Lefort, Salle des Agriculteurs Paris. The score dedicated to his friend Paul Taffanel, professor of Flute at Conservatoire.
Dubois followed french romantic tradition with César Franck and Gabriel Fauré: Composed in logic design; endless, splendid melody line; while skillfully balancing the music lyric and dramatic elements. With the experience of being an organist and choirmaster, his cello sonata contains enriched harmony effect and delicate depth. This sonata was well recognized by critics by its high requirement of playing skill during the premièred in 1905 Afterwards, it became the most frequently played cello sonata in Paris, surpassing the popularity of the first cello sonata by Camille Saint-Saëns.
Dubois was sixty-eight old in 1905. This three-movements cello sonata is just like a proper review of his entire experience. The Allegretto con moto e con calore could easily be summarized as "Supplication", The iambus rhythm offers this movement powerful energy. The syncopated character, though sometimes soft, sometimes rough, and even reached the suddenness. It evokes a slow, but persistent persuasion that goes from joy to pain. The clean and warm motif in the beginning, mixing with some melodic fragments, finally became hot and exciting. After sudden crease, piano presents second theme (1’38”) as if a tender pleading, even smiling withpersist desire to reach the goal. The most absolute confidence suggests the following pattern that flows with slight variations,. Through his frequent appearances, the piece adds more force until end. Andante con variazioni is basically a variation in the classical form, with a noble, sentimental, and rococo style theme, following by seven variations. The end of the second variation comes with a very surprised piano cadenza, music toward huge dramatic power (2m37s), then finally ends in a large tragic feeling. The final movement, Allegro bien rythmé, piano states a rustic dance theme with rhythmic and joyful. Cello joints with several lyric fragments connecting with small notes. Dubois presents a gorgeous composition skill to force the music with related melody fragments and motifs, just like a continuously but changing scene in a joyful journey. The second half he recalls each melodic fragments and motifs just as a turn-back, and suddenly ends this movement with astonished ending.
Nocturne for Cello and Piano was composed in 1903, following with French nocturne tradition after Gabriel Fauré: a clear and almost endless melody line supported by harmonic accompaniment. It fully presents the elegant and balance of French music.Lyrical singing melody is just like a peaceful night, but end the singing with a question mark, (1m16s). This question brings to the second part of Ternary, like a self-struggle. .In the end, everything ceases at the deep night. The music remains as beautiful as usual, and as eternal.
In 1915, the fifty-three old Debussy moved to Pourville, Normandy because of World War I. For the patriotic reason, he planned to compose six sonatas with
various instruments, to walk away from Richard Wagner’s influence, and pay tribute to French baroque composers such as Jean-Philippe Rameau, François Couperin, and Jean-Marie Leclair. Eventually, he only finished three compositions, apart from this cello sonata, the others are Trio for flute, viola and harp, and a violin sonata. In the score cover, Debussy named himself as “French Musician.” This cello sonata largely extends the possibility of cello performance to imitate the sound effect as guitars, flutes, expressing every mood of human beings.
Debussy tried to break through the bar line and tempo, and returned to the nature rhythm of speaking, “In the good sense of word,” as the baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, his opera composition, therefore delivered a lot of expression mark and tempo mark in score. The simplified and skillful setting of piano are also understood as what he wrote in the opening page of score “The pianist must never forget that he should not fight against the cello but accommodate it.”
Though Debussy thought that he composed this cello sonata with “The close-to-classical style and the positive sense of the term,” The three-movements
piece is actually closer to an incidental music than a “sonata”. Implying by its
subtitle “Pierrot is angry at the moon.”, Pierrot was a character of a pantomime and
Commedia dell’Arte, a sad clown with white face, in which Pierrot was a puppet with pale and blue look, which symbolized horror, anxiousness, contradiction and emptiness. It can be also seemed as seeing through the entire life. It is said that Pierrot was a puppet, which was tame and follow people’s requests without any own will. However, under the moon light, he turned alive and exploded out his entire anger during the day. Furthermore, he had many close-to-crazy actions. (some people consider moon equips with a power to drive people angry and crazy.) Along
with the scene, in the music, we see Pierrot was awakening by the moon and presents
his devil side from within (painful, anxious, crazy, ecstasy and horror). On the other side, piano is as if the moonlight and shadow. Sometimes follow through and sometimes just observe as an outsider.
A simple D minor chord in piano starts the first movement, Prologue, It is an elegant phrase imitates French baroque harpsichord fantasie. Pierrot awakes now, from slowing movement to crazy and strange dance. Debussy changes expression and
tempo mark frequently to describe the feverish ghosts, leading their vast, and dismal
dance. The second movement start with Cello’s pizzicato, a Sérénade”, by playing like guitar, mandolin and flute. Pierrot is happily playing a novel toy, but moonlight (piano) only echoes back with few short and cold notes. This “serenade” is not a sweet night, but an endless nightmare, which is hard to be awake from. Toward the end of the chapter, a slight deem is revealed and seems the hope is about to come. Third movement, Finale, continue without break. A Spanish Andalucian Cadence starts the festival. However, the cheerful atmosphere was often interrupted, which echos the poem from Verlaine’s poem “Playing the lute and dancing and almost Sad beneath their fantastic disguises.” Just when the music reaches the climax, the tempo switched to the initial slow flow and suddenly ends this chapter with simple notes, which surprise all the audiences.
Clair de lune is originally the third piece of “Suite Bergamosque” for piano. Bergamo, a north Italian city, is the origin of Commedia dell’Arte. Based on Verlaine’s poem “Clair de lune” from “Fêtes galantes”, Debussy named this suite from its opening phrase “Your soul is a select landscape, Where charming masqueraders and bergamaskers go.” Thus “Suite Bergamosque” doesn’t really talk about Bergamo city, but more to describe the characters of Commedia dell’Arte. Outside the “mask”, people sing and dance to praise the wonderful life, but under the masks it is totally different. The moonlight is just an object, which doesn’t create the light but reflect from the sun to indirectly light up the world and it is a just as the popular analogy approach by Paul Verlaine. Moon seems sees through everything but says nothing.
Hong-Jen Huang (Translation: Sing-Ying Lin)