Debussy's Piano Music

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

Petite Suite  complete in one video

   1. En bateau (Sailing)
   2. Cortège
   3. Menuet
   4. Ballet

These four short pieces for piano four hands were the first of Debussy's piano compositions to be published, in 1889, shortly before he wrote Clair de lune. (See Faun book, page 77.)

Anastasia and Liubov Gromoglasova, 

piano four hands



Debussy didn't like Rêverie (1890) and told his publisher it was a mistake to release it. Today it is one of his best-known piano pieces. (See Faun book, page 77.)

Aldo Ciccolini, piano


Suite Bergamasque  complete in one video

   1. Prélude
   2. Menuet
   3. Clair de lune
   4. Passepied

Among the world's most famous piano works, Clair de lune was written c. 1890, when Debussy's music was still unknown except to a small group of friends and musicians. Three other early pieces were assembled to create the Suite Bergamasque, which was published in 1905. (See Faun book, pages 76-77.)

Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano


Arabesque, No. 1 – Andante con moto

Arabesque, No. 2 – Allegretto scherzande

The Arabesques (1890-1891) are immensely popular and often heard in recitals. The first is romantic and melodic, while the second is fast and frisky. (See Faun book, page 76.)

Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano

Valse romantique

Another brilliant product of Debussy's first great outpouring of piano music around 1890. (See Faun book, page 76.)
Zoltán Kocsis, piano


Pour le piano

   1. Prelude

   2. Sarabande

   3. Toccata

Debussy revered the French keyboard masters of the Baroque era, especially Couperin and Rameau. In Pour le piano (1894-1901) and other works, he emulates their style with

characteristic charm, transparency, and, in the Toccata, a torrent of difficult passages that challenge the virtuoso performer. (See Faun book, page 245.)

Giuseppe Albanese, piano



Lindaraja (1901), for two pianos, is named for a tree-shaded courtyard in the Alhambra, in Granada, a city Debussy never visited but knew from pictures. (See Faun book, pages 245-246.)

Werner Haas and Noël Lee, pianos

Estampes  complete in one video

   1. Pagodes (Pagodas)

   2. Soirée dans Grenade (Evening in Granada)

   3. Jardins sous la pluie (Gardens in the Rain)

It was in Estampes (1903) that Debussy first achieved the creative miracle that for Alfred Cortot is “the poetry of the piano, the new essence of his music.” (An "estampe" is a print or engraving.) Debussy suggests in his tonal pictures “the invisible in Nature, the indefinable that sings and vibrates under the appearance of things.” Pagodes uses elements borrowed from the Javanese gamelan. Soirée is a pastiche of Spanish dance rhythms. Jardins suggests children playing in the rain. (See Faun book, page 246.)

Rafal Blechacz, piano


L'Isle joyeuse (Joyous Island)

This piece, begun in 1903 and completed in the summer of 1904, is a marvelous showpiece for virtuosos, a characteristic Debussyan romp that builds to an ecstatic finale. It is dedicated to Emma Bardac; he eloped with her that summer to the Isle of Jersey. (See Faun book, pages 226-228.)

Giuseppe Albanese, piano


D’un cahier d’esquisses (From a Sketchbook) 

Imagine Debussy, in his early 40s, improvising at the piano one evening, the room darkened and quiet. His nimble mind takes him from one musical idea to another. Cahier wasn't created that way, but that's how it sounds, and it's quite remarkable. (See Faun book, pages 246-247.)

Alain Planès, piano


Images pour piano, Book 1

   1. Reflets dans l'eau (Reflections in the Water)

   2. Hommage à Rameau 

   3. Mouvement

These three pieces show the composer's range of musical poetry in the richly productive years from 1901-1905. In Reflets dans l'eau, he gives voice to the reflections on the surface of a pond. Hommage à Rameau was written in the manner of a Baroque sarabande. Mouvement is a riot of triplets played at warp speed. (See Faun book, pages 247-248.)

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, piano


Images pour piano, Book 2

   1. Cloches à travers les feuilles (Bells Through

           the Leaves)
   2. Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut 

            the Moon Descends on the Temple That Was)

   3. Poissons d'or (Goldfish)

In these 1907 piano pieces, Debussy enlarged the definition of what the piano could do. Poisson d'or gives us not merely  a snapshot but the life of the goldfish as they shimmer, quiver, dart and flash. Cloche is an impressionist landscape made of ambient sounds drifting on air. In La lune descend are wandering strands of dissonant chords interspersed with passages of unearthly beauty. (See Faun book, pages 247-248.)

Maria Guignard, piano

Children's Corner  complete in one video

   1. Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum

   2. Jimbo's Lullaby

   3. Serenade for the Doll

   4. The Snow Is Dancing

   5. The Little Shepherd

   6. Golliwogg's Cake-walk

These 1906-1908 pieces were inspired by Debussy's daughter, Chouchou, a toddler who was learning English from her nanny. Doctor Gradus refers to the piano studies by Clementi, playfully interpreted by Debussy. Jimbo expresses the tender relationship of a little girl and her stuffed elephant. Serenade might be the song one doll sings to another. Golliwogg, the most famous of the six, was the name of a black doll that became popular in France at the time the cakewalk was introduced from America. (See Faun book, pages 248-249.)

Pascal Rogé, piano


La Plus que lente (More Than Slow)

A gracious waltz (1910), nostalgic for a past that can only be evoked through music. (See Faun book, pages 249-250.)

Giuseppe Albanese, piano

Préludes, Book 1  complete in one video

   1. Danseuses de Delphes (Dancers of Delphi)

   2. Voiles (Sails)

   3. Le vent dans la plaine (Wind on the Plain)

   4. Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du

           soir (Sounds and Perfumes Swirl in Evening Air)

   5. Les collines d'Anacapri (Hills of Anacapri)

   6. Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps on the Snow)

   7. Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest (What the West

           Wind Has Seen)

   8. La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the

           Flaxen Hair)

   9. La sérénade interrompue (The Interrupted


   10. La cathédrale engloutie (Sunken Cathedral)

   11. La danse de Puck (Puck’s Dance)

   12. Minstrels 

The 24 Préludes (Books 1 and 2), among the pillars of the
20th-century piano repertoire, are meditations on what interested the composer: French poems and legends, English children's stories and Dickens' novels, a stage performer, a newspaper article. Book 1 was begun in December 1909 and completed, amazingly, in about four weeks. (See Faun book, pages 250-252.)

Krystian Zimerman, piano


Préludes, Book 2  complete in one video

   1. Brouillards (Mists)

   2. Feuilles mortes (Dead Leaves)

   3. La puerta del vino (The Wine Gate)

   4. Les fées sont d'exquises danseuses (The

            Fairies Are Exquisite Dancers)

   5. Bruyères (Heathers)

   6. General Lavine — eccentric

   7. La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune

           (The Terrace for Moonlight Audiences)

   8. Ondine

   9. Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C.

   10. Canope

   11. Les tierces alternées (Alternating Thirds)        

   12. Feux d'artifice (Fireworks)

The Préludes, Book 2, were written in 1911-1912. (See Faun book, pages 252-254.)

Krystian Zimerman, piano


Debussy, Études complete in one video

   Étude 1, pour les cinq doigts, d'après Monsieur

        Czerny (Etude for five fingers, after Czerny)

   Étude 2 pour les tierces (thirds)

   Étude 3 pour les quartes (fourths)

   Étude 4 pour les sixtes (sixths)

   Étude 5 pour les octaves (octaves)

   Étude 6 pour les huit doigts (eight fingers)

   Étude 7 pour les degrés chromatiques

      (chromatic degrees)

   Étude 8 pour les agréments (ornaments)

   Étude 9 pour les notes répétées (repeated notes)

   Étude 10 pour les sonorités opposées

       (opposite sonorities)

   Étude 11 pour les arpèges composés

       (composite arpeggios)

   Étude 12 pour les accords (chords)

Debussy was inspired to write his 12 Études in 1915, while preparing a new edition of Chopin for his publisher. Although “étude” suggests a study or exercise, each piece has its own character, its own challenges, and Debussy lavished them with all the charm and wit he could muster at a time when his body was ravaged by cancer and his mind by the war. “A little charm never spoilt anything,” he said. (See Faun book, pages 294-296.)

Jeffrey LaDeur, piano


En blanc et noir (In White and Black)

Written for two pianos, this is one of several dark compositions Debussy wrote in response to the war, which had become more savage and destructive in early 1915. In three movements he portrays the stark, shifting moods of a war-torn community reacting to danger; the aftermath of a bombing raid; the nervous frenzy of the survivors. (See Faun book, pages 291-292.)

Anastasia and Liubov Gromoglasova, pianos