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Première Rapsodie

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Première Rapsodie for clarinet and piano

This lovely piece (entitled First Rhapsody but Debussy never composed a second) was written for clarinet and piano in 1909-10, then orchestrated by the composer. In technical regards it effectively exploits the two sides of the clarinet's nature: the instrument's 'singing' ability and its agility. But the music's expressive content, complementing the technical mastery, is at least as important a factor in the pleasure that the work gives.

Robert Godet called this the most dreamlike of Debussy's rhapsodies, and it appears from Godet's published conversations with Georges Jean-Aubry that the work enshrines some of the composer's thinking about As You Like It, particularly the character of Jacques, the melancholy dreamer.

Debussy had long planned to write an opera on Shakespeare's play, and it was probably only his long illness and early death that prevented him doing so. The atmospheric opening of the Rhapsody might well evoke the Forest of Arden, and the vein of fantasy that runs through all that follows is fully in keeping with the spirit of the play.

© Eric Mason

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