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Debussy: Musique de Scene pour les Chansons de Bilitis

By Claudia Giottoli

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By Claudia Giottoli, Elisabetta Lombardi, Filippo Farinelli, Magadis Ensemble, and Raffaele D'Aniello. By Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Classical. Listening CD. Brilliant Classics #BRI95678. Published by Brilliant Classics (NX.BRI95678).

Item Number: NX.BRI95678

After setting three of his friend Pierre Louys's 1894 prose poems in Les Chansons de Bilitis, Debussy was asked by him to provide incidental music for a mimed recitation of another 12 poems. A single performance was given on 7 February 1901, after rehearsals of which Louys wrote: 'I'm spending every afternoon with naked women. It's nice.' The poems were spoofs on those by Sappho, supposedly a friend of the non-existent Bilitis, and a review praised the music as 'ingeniously archaic'. Debussy's scoring evokes the imagined sound of ancient Greece: the two flutes represent the aulos, associated with satyrs and the Dionysian cult; and the two harps speak for the kythara, associated with Apollo. Interwoven with the music is the bright sound of the celesta, the metal instrument patented by Auguste Mustel in 1886 that constitutes a meeting point between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The missing celesta part of the incidental music, no doubt taken by Debussy himself, was recreated by Arthur Hoeree. In 1914 Debussy reworked passages of the music in his Epigraphes antiques for piano duet. Although the Chansons and the Epigraphes have often been recorded, they are very rarely recorded together with the incidental music, making this new album a uniquely cohesive and attractive album presenting Debussy at his most sensuous and Orientalist. There is a postlude to the album which continues its theme with Syrinx for solo flute, Debussy's dreamy evocation of the god Pan that also had its origins in music for the stage. Distinguished Italian musicians have joined forces to form the Magadis Ensemble. The ensemble's flexible line-up and wide repertoire focuses on vocal and instrumental chamber music by 20th- and 21st-century composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Dallapiccola and Scelsi.

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