Debussy's Chamber Music

Claude Debussy

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String Quartet in G minor

    First movement. Animé et très décidé

    Second movement. Assez vif et bien rythmé

    Third movement. Andantino doucement expressif

    Fourth movement. Très modéré --Très mouvementé et

        avec passion

While writing Afternoon of a Faun, Debussy composed another very different masterpiece. Introduced in December 1893, his String Quartet puzzled and astonished everyone. One critic wrote: "Bounding rhythms, violent harmonic jerks, alternating with languid melodies, copious floods of rich, sustained harmonies that evoke the memory of the gamelan. . . . [The String Quartet] is very distinguished, but one does not know how to take hold of it. It is more like a hallucination than a dream. Is it music? Perhaps so." Today, with its inventive harmonies and unusual sonic flavors, it is widely recognized as the first great quartet of the Modern era. (See Faun book, pgs 127-129.)

Danish String Quartet


The Chamber Sonatas

 The summer of 1915 was one of Debussy's most productive periods, despite the pain and depression caused by his advancing cancer. While summering in Pourville, far from the raging war, he completed En Blanc et noir for two pianos, wrote the piano Etudes, and set out to write six sonatas for various instrumental combinations. The first to be written, at Pourville, was the Cello Sonata, followed quickly by the Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. The Violin Sonata was finished in April 1917, less than a year before he died. (See Faun book, pgs 292-294.)


Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor

Maurice Gendron, cello; Jean Françaix, piano


Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp

    First movement. Pastorale

    Second movement. Interlude

    Third movement. Finale

Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute; Pierre Pasquier, viola; Lily Laskine, harp


Sonata for Violin and Piano

Shlomo Mintz, violin; Yefim Bronfman, piano



Syrinx is an old synonym for flute, or panpipes. In 1913, Gabriel Mourey asked Debussy to write incidental music for a staging of his dramatic poem "Psyche." The composer, busy with other projects, wrote only a short piece to articulate the imminent death of the Greek god Pan — a flute solo, appropriately. Like much of Debussy’s late music, Syrinx sounds as if it's improvised. A haunting, mournful theme yields to heart-stirring melodic complexities with each repetition. (See Faun book, pg 283.)

Emmanuel Pahud, flute

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Page numbers refer to the book, "Afternoon of a Faun," where these works are discussed.