1894: Debussy: Afternoon of a Faun

SUNDAY, September 6, 2020 – 4:45 AM

(This is an update from much earlier this year.)

0:01 – The Afternoon of a Faun…

Instrumentation:

  • 3 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets in A and B♭, 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns
  • 2 harps, 2 crotales
  • strings

What are a crotales?

They are antique cymbals, are percussion instruments consisting of small, tuned bronze or brass disks. They are commonly played by being struck with hard malletsYou can also strike two disks together like finger cymbals, or you can bow them. Modern crotales are arranged chromatically and have a range of up to two octaves.

Another important recording by Stokowski…

This is yet again a miraculous recording made around 1957 by Stokowski that continues to compete with anything done very recently.

Too controversial to be staged…

Unlike so many other great musical compositions, this was a hit from day one, and it’s been a favorite even since. However, a ballet based on this same music was considered much too risqué and sparked a controversy almost as extreme as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Debussy wrote in the printed program:

The music of this Prelude is a very free illustration of a beautiful poem by Mallarmé. It is little about summarizing this poem, but instead suggests different feelings which lead to desires and dreams of the Aegipan (the fawn) during this torpid afternoon. Tired of chasing fearful nymphs and shy naiads, he abandons himself to a voluptuous sleep that animates the dream of a desire finally fulfilled: complete possession of all of Nature.

Originally the 1st of three movements…

Debussy had intended to compose a second and third movement, an Interlude and Paraphrase finale, respectively, but changes his mind, writing all his ideas into just one.

One of the compositions that changed the course of musical history…

If we examine what everyone else in the world was doing in 1894 it becomes obvious that this piece is unique, and it is always mentioned as something that was a musical turning point. It’s hard to believe today, when everything just sounds so natural, inevitable and just plain right. But in its time it was quite revolutionary, though in a very pleasant and easily acceptable way.

4 thoughts on “1894: Debussy: Afternoon of a Faun

  1. I feel like one of the most underrated instruments is the oboe. Of course this is just the personal gripe of a oboe player but it is still accurate. The sound that emits from an oboe played by a skilled musician. It can make or break a song like this. Debussy knew what he was doing when adding oboes.

  2. I have heard this before, more than once, but the musicians under Stokowski bring in something extra – or he brings it out of the musician and the composer’s score. I like hearing the voices of the different instruments coming out at different times.

  3. This man.. I’m sure some call him Impressionist, but then again, so was Beethoven, no? Both painted what they felt, only with sound, not a brush.

    This is a wonderful recording indeed, and Stokowski somehow brings the color out more so than other performances I’ve heard.

    This is the music the world needs right now..

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