Daniel Barenboim - DEBUSSY Préludes I

A journey of the senses through Debussy's piano music

Shortly before his 75th birthday, Daniel Barenboim recorded a hand-picked selection of solo piano pieces by Claude Debussy – a tribute to the composer, who passed away 100 years ago. Together with Barenboim’s earlier recording of the first book of Préludes, these form the richly multi-faceted programme of his latest album for Deutsche Grammophon, set for international release on 19 January 2018


Claude Debussy was an innovator in late 19th-century piano music, ingeniously and open-mindedly exploiting the instrument’s vast tonal potential. Daniel Barenboim here explores the composer’s revolutionary spirit in performances that highlight the timbral colour and sensuality of some of his most important keyboard works. Deutsche Grammophon will release the pianist’s new album on 19 January to coincide with the Debussy centenary.

Inspired by his first efforts in orchestral composition, Debussy created piano works rich in musical imagery and atmosphere. At times playful and whimsical, at others gracious and dreamy, but always formally perfect, his pieces are veritable gems of the piano literature.

The album’s repertoire reflects Debussy’s compositional finesse and versatility. Alongside the delicate musical images of Estampes, the programme includes one of his best-known works, “Clair de lune” from the Suite bergamasque, which Barenboim also considers “one of the absolute masterpieces”. The leisurely waltz La plus que lente unfolds with subtle irony, followed by the halting, delicate melancholy of the Elégie, composed in 1915. The album is crowned by the first book of Préludes, dating from 1909-10 and, on account of its poetic expressive power, occupying a unique place in Debussy’s output. The composer translated the literary associations that sparked his imagination into widely contrasting musical dream-images that enchant us with their thrilling virtuosity or tender lyricism. Barenboim recorded Préludes I in 1998 at the Institut Pere Mata in Reus, Catalonia and has chosen to include the collection here alongside the works he recorded in Berlin in the autumn of 2017.

“Let me be considered as what I really am – the creator of a new way of thinking in musical tones, and thereby of a new aesthetic and a new grammar. Do not use traditional ideas of classification to pigeonhole something that seeks to escape from those very ideas. Recognise Debussy for what he is.” The composer described his own creativity in those words, urgently appealing for an unbiased response to his music. Daniel Barenboim gives just such a response on his new album. “Debussy altered the course of European music history enormously,” says the artist, “coining a wholly new musical language and conception of tonal colours.” Debussy’s chief sources of inspiration were literature and nature. Barenboim sees him as a founding father of musical Modernism whose compositions elude stylistic categorisation. Listening to Barenboim’s interpretations, one witnesses a sculptor of sound at work – he immerses himself in this music, taking evident delight in the discoveries made along the way.

During his years as principal conductor of the Orchestre de Paris – from 1975 to 1989 – Barenboim made an intensive study of Debussy’s harmonic and rhythmic innovations and his extraordinary palette of tonal colours while preparing a number of the composer’s orchestral works for concert performance. That wealth of experience has also enriched Barenboim’s examination of Debussy’s piano works, enabling him to realise their orchestral dimensions by means of his agility and range of colours at the keyboard. Served by sensuous, grounded and powerful playing, the pianist becomes a gripping storyteller who masterfully sustains the music’s broad arches and enlivens each piece with immediate intensity and a potent sense of atmosphere.

Daniel Barenboim ranks among the most extraordinary artistic figures of our time. Both as pianist and conductor, he has made his name with recordings of engaging musicality and artistic maturity. He has served as artistic director and Generalmusikdirektor of the Berlin Staatsoper “Unter den Linden” since 1992, and in autumn 2000 was named chief conductor for life of the Berlin Staatskapelle. As co-founder and conductor of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, he is a passionate advocate of music as a language of peace and cultural understanding. Barenboim has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon since 1972, both on the podium and at the keyboard, and over the years has amassed an imposing discography that spans centuries of music history. It now acquires an additional facet with this Debussy album.

For Claude Debussy, music was a means of discovering new worlds. In 1903 he said, “If you can’t afford to travel, you use your imagination instead.” Daniel Barenboim’s new album is the best travelling companion anyone could wish for.