Debussy Rhapsodie (Rhapsody) Part II

Speaking of Staccato, I am fortunate enough to remember listening to Gaston Hamelin play the Debussy and will never forget his approach, then most probably a standard approach to the famous passage at the Scherzando after #6, and indeed at number 6 itself. It was an articulation which really did not end, rather joined into the following notes so that one could still hear the reed vibrating partially. A sound that would not be heard more than five or ten rows into the audience, leaving a robust and forceful staccato, which I thought and continue to think was absolutely ideal for the rhapsody as well as many other articulations. Cioffi and Wright, both principals of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (at different times) used this staccato to great effect.

One other point before going on, though as I look through the score I can see literally hundreds of things which need to be pointed out to students: After the moderement anime (scherzando) after #5, there is a gradula return to the initial theme of the rhapsody, (though in a different key) slowing and becoming more and more diminuendo until a bit before #6 when there is more diminundo, and the initial theme is played (in the high register) pianissimo.

Prior to this point, make both more of a crescendo and more diminuendo which will have a very dramatic outlining of the returning theme (use the long harmonic high F, and the two right hand trill keys for the high grace note c#, making sure that you do not lose control of this. Keep in mind that it is a grace note).

Third bar after #7 is the second most difficult place technically, but only if you let it get away from you and rush, when anything can happen. Keep in mind, fast passages sound better slightly slower, slightly.

The theme returns again at #8 and at #9, when you are really into the most challenging part, the most difficult to execute and the hardest trills on the instrument, played anime at #10.

Now these trills cannot be just played, they must be made into a project wherein you know what is going to happen 9 out of 10 times. You must if you expect to remain consistently excellent. One: both the g and the db-eb trill must be accented, and two: the two grace notes following each trilled note must be at exactly the same place rhythmically.

This was my task as a student when first playing this work. My solution has always worked for me and is solidly dependable: I play 9 notes for each trill, yes evenly, (slightly faster than 32nds), and end up at exactly the four 16ths on the third beat of #10.

Now, please read this again. If the concept is undestandable you need not ever be leery of this section again. (also prior to #10, play the high gb with the long fingering, making it mush less of a problem).

The 16ths between 11 and 12 are usually well sorted out by students, unless you rush, and then the good Lord only knows where you might end up, someplace in the middle of tiger country, I think.

Do NOT play the 6 bars of the work too loudly or you may lose it, either the pitch will come undone or you can jump to the higher harmonic above the last note of the piece as happened to a student of mine once upon a time.

Yes, I have great respect for this wonderful work and still marvel at how Debussy was able to construct certainly the most technically challenging work for the instrument seemingly just for the exams.

The secret is again, the beauty of the music of the French Impressionist period, understatement and supreme control of both pitch and legato.

As always, the best of good luck and adventure in this wonderful journey.


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