The programme includes:
Claude Debussy. Danse sacree et danse profane for harp and string quartet
Maurice Ravel. Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet
André Caplet. Conte fantastique for harp and string quartet
Claude Debussy. Rhapsody for clarinet. Arrangement for harp, string quartet, flute and clarinet by Sylvain Blassel
Claude Debussy. Sonata for harp, flute and viola
Claude Debussy. Prélude а l’après-midi d’un faune. Arrangement for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet by Sylvain Blassel
Throughout the entire 19th century harp makers strove to make the full richness of romantic harmony accessible to the instrument. At the very close of the century the Paris firm Pleyel remembered that in the Renaissance era this problem was resolved by equipping the harp with two rows of strings instead of one. Very quickly a new chromatic harp was designed with no pedals, on which it was possible to perform basically any piano music of the time.
Commissioned by Pleyel, Claude Debussy wrote Danse sacrée et danse profane for this nowadays unusual instrument – a subtly stylised work notable for its true dance plastique. In the original version, the harp is accompanied by a string orchestra, though there is also an arrangement for a quartet.
Debussy had not even completed his Danses before the competing Paris company Erard commissioned a work from Maurice Ravel. And the composer created one of his most charming chamber works. In the 19th century the romantic composers wrote myriad works with the title Introduction and Allegro. And these were always dazzling virtuoso pieces for soloist and orchestra. But Ravel turned to the purely chamber genre. He succeeded in demonstrating the technical possibilities of the harp, avoiding any points of contact with the standard virtuoso repertoire, and he composed something that is incredibly refined – in line with the character of the instrument.
The conductor and composer André Caplet was sixteen years younger than Debussy and in his art it so happened that he followed in the maestro’s footsteps. On several occasions he performed works by his elder colleague, while Debussy, valuing his knowledge and practical experience of instrumentation, entrusted Caplet to orchestrate some of his music for Gabriele d’Annunzio’s Saint-Sébastien.
On several occasions Caplet used the harp as an accompanying instrument in songs and spiritual works. Soon after Debussy had composed Danse sacrée et danse profane, Caplet also created a work for solo harp and orchestra. This was Légende, after Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death (1908). In 1923 the composer returned to it once more and reworked it for harp and string quartet and changed the title to Conte fantastique. Edgar Allan Poe’s somewhat grotesque images, however, never went anywhere.
Claude Debussy’s interest in the clarinet as a solo instrument was aroused in 1910 thanks to Professor Prosper Mimart of the Paris Conservatoire who came from a long line of clarinettists. It was at his request that Rhapsody for Clarinet and Piano as a competition piece for the Conservatoire was written. The arrangement for clarinet and string orchestra was made by Sylvain Blassel.
In the last years of his life Debussy created a series of sonatas. These include a work for three instruments that always played a huge role in his orchestra – the 1915 composition Sonata for Harp, Flute and Viola in three parts (Pastorale, Interlude and Finale). It is as if here ancient images, so cherished by the symbolists, come to life, and the flute reminds us of Pan and Syrinx and the harp of the cithara.
Also inspired by the Ancient world was a work with which the young Debussy first made a name for himself as a master of orchestral composition. The symphonic prelude L’Après midi d’un faune (1894) was inspired by the poem by Stéphane Mallarmé. The arrangement for flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet was composed by Sylvain Blassel.