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Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Nationality: French
Born: August 22, 1862, St. Germain-en-Laye Died: March 25, 1918, Paris (age 55)

Danse sacrée et Danse profane (for harp and strings)

(for 2 violins, viola, cello and harp)
4:53 I. Danse sacrée. Très modéré
5:51 II. Danse profane. Modéré
Duration: 11 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1904 (age 41-42)
Premiere: November 6, 1904. Paris, Concerts Colonne
Published: 1904, Paris: Durand (age 41-42)
Dedication: à Gustave Lyon
4 recordings, 4 videos
autoopen autoplay
Moretti, Quatuor Ebène
Viadrina Ensemble
Ensemble Instrumental de Corse (orchestral)
Concert Arts String Ensemble, Stockton
From Kai Christiansen

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Danse sacrée et Danse profane (1904)

Claude DebussyVarious approaches emerged throughout the 19th century for enabling the harp to sound all the chromatic pitches, the sharps and flats of every key signature. One design that eventually prevailed provided pedals for the harpist to raise or lower the pitch of a string so that, in effect, each string provided three different chromatic tones (known as the double-action pedal harp). Around the turn of the century, the Pleyel company offered a different potential solution: a much bigger harp with no pedals but many more strings, one dedicated to each of the desired chromatic tones. To promote the new instrument, Pleyel turned to Debussy and commissioned a piece to showcase its capabilities. Though the intractable Pleyel harp soon vanished, Debussy's resulting Danse sacrée et Danse profane of 1904 remains eternal, one of the finest chamber works featuring the harp so beautifully suited to Debussy's ineffable style.

Though the piece comprises two dances, they are connected without pause into a seamless whole. The contrast suggested by "sacrée" and "profane" is that between spirit and body, ethereal and corporeal, heaven and earth. The first dance is infused with an ancient grace, hovering, illuminated and awe-inspiring. The second dance begins with a gentle waltz of pristine simplicity recalling Satie's influential Gymnopédies written nearly 15 years earlier. With the harp creating sparkles like a mirror ball, the strings swell into a swirling waltz etched with finely wrought harp figurations, passing reverie and swooning clouds of enchanted atmosphere. The final notes dispel the visitation, suddenly, with a wink of the eye leaving the listener as if awaked from a fleeting dream quickly fading into the common light of day.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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