Thursday, April 22, 2010

Berceuse héroique (1914)

 Claude Debussy's nostalgic tribute to the Belgian king and army amidst the horrors of the First World War.
The composer soon decided that he wished to compose some sort of piece for the war effort. Initially, he conceived of a "Marche Heroique," but that sort of thing did not mesh with his understated compositional style. A march which was meant to evoke strong patriotic feelings would have required loud, grand music. Debussy's piano music was always subtle and avoided "blatancy," as the composer put it. Also, Debussy thought that it seemed ridiculous for him to speak of heroism while he was living in peace, well away from the battles. In November 1914, the composer was able to compose his Berceuse Heroique for piano, which was dedicated to "His Majesty King Albert I of Belgium and his soldiers." The piece was included in the King of Belgium's Book. This simple piece for piano was to be the only work that Debussy composed in the 12 months following the start of the war.
A berceuse is a type of lullaby, mostly for solo piano. Many pieces in this genre were written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Berceuse Heroique can still be called "heroic" because of its use of the Belgian national anthem, also known as the "Brabanconne." Debussy, as well as others, felt that the patriotism of the work did not reflect on listeners that would not recognize the tune. A sense of nostalgia, rather than heroism, is conveyed, especially in the orchestral version of the composition. Debussy completed this arrangement in December. The Belgian national anthem is presented somberly by many instruments throughout this orchestral work, as it is heard first in the bassoons, horns, and clarinets, then in the violas and cellos. The Concerts Colonne et Lamoureux, an orchestra, presented this version during their 1915 - 1916 season.

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