DEBUSSY Claude, Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp


Debussy originally planned a set of six instrumental sonatas but only lived to complete three of them. The first was for cello and piano (August 1915), the third for violin and piano (finished in April 1917), but in terms of instrumentation the most unusual of the three was the second sonata, scored for flute, viola and harp. Debussy completed it in October 1915 at the end of a productive summer spent on the Normandy coast, and the first performance took place on 7 November in Boston, Massachusetts. Debussy heard the work for the first time a month later, on 10 December, when it was given in Paris at one of the concerts put on by his publisher Durand. The viola part was played on that occasion by Darius Milhaud. 


The work was inspired by the clarity and elegant proportions of French Baroque music, but the musical language is very much of its own time. The ethereal Pastorale is based on fragmentary but distinctive musical ideas, while the central Interlude, delicately coloured in places by whole-tone harmonies, is marked ‘Tempo di minuetto’ – the most obvious nod to the Baroque. The finale is directed to be played ‘Allegro moderato ma risoluto’ and the muscular quality of the ideas presented at the start dominate the movement. There’s a brief recollection of the ‘Pastorale’ before a short, exultant coda. 


© Nigel Simeone 


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