B3LLA Piano Trio

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DEBUSSY's Piano Trio in G Major, L.3 (1880) (Manuscript only recently discovered!!!)

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Anyone who is familiar with this work must also know that it is a case wherein history
has hidden from us a masterpiece.  It was composed by a 17-year-old Claude Debussy
(commonly referred to as the ‘father of impressionism’ in music) in 1880, who at the time
was working as the personal pianist to Nadezhda von Meck, known for her artistic
relationship and patronage of Tchaikovsky. Wanting to boast of this young Claude’s
talents, von Meck wrote to Tchaikovsky and in her letter speaks of a ‘masterfully written
piano trio.’ It is unclear how it happened, but somehow the score was lost to time and
has been only recently discovered a century after its composition. Surfacing in Paris
and now residing in the Morgan Library in New York, on these pages are inscribed the
ideas of a brilliant young man, and very evident is the style of the ‘artistic force-to-be’
rumbling within him. The work has four movements and is not too far off of a standard
chamber work-model so common in the 19th century:
The first movement is a lighthearted sonata-form movement, that weaves through
many key areas within one phrase. Like the style of Prokofiev (but perhaps with more
tonal integrity), listen for big romantic themes, and exuberant climaxes. It is unseemly
however, the way Debussy ends and begins the first movement, neatly organizing the
torrid ideas into what at the outset appears to be the very ‘picture of innocence.’ It is in
the second movement that one can truly see the Debussy we know and love. It is a
macabre dance, full of whit and humor. The third movement is the emotional core of
the trio. It takes the form of a somber song, like a ballad. The immediate attractiveness
of this movement will be clearly evident; so much so that one wonders how famous this
melody would have been had this work not been missing from the repertoire for the last
hundred years. If there was any doubt that Debussy was the composer of this trio,
certainly the last few bars of the third movement will put any worries to rest. The finale
movement opens with a turbulent melody which inhabits a windswept landscape, the
sound of which cannot be properly described using only terms such as Romantic,
French, Impressionistic, or Modern. He uses a hodgepodge of styles and keys to set
some traditional but mostly excitingly erratic musical ideas. The music in this finale,
staunchly confident and somehow at the same time thrillingly insecure, soars to a
rousing conclusion that sums up perfectly who Debussy was in that day: an entity
bursting with so many novel ideas that soon works composed in the style of the piano
trio could not contain them. So for the rest of his life after this, Debussy would move far
beyond this style and would eventually be the man who brought music to the place
where Monet brought art; somewhere completely different from where we were before.
It is upon arriving at this different place, that the question begs, “If we are here now, well
then, where were we? And how did we get here?” For a figure so integral to one of
those incredible events we see in history when one artist steers the ‘aesthetic direction’
for all of mankind (in this case from the ‘Romantic’ aesthetic to ‘Impressionism’ and
eventually ‘Modernism’), it is an exciting discovery for us to be able to see where it all