Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Claude Debussy

Having completed his first book of three Images for piano solo in 1905, Debussy returned again to this genre two years later, when he produced a series of works which are broadly similar in their expressive remit, but vastly more complex and ambitious from a pianistic standpoint. The first major difference one will note is that, as befits music of significantly greater textural density, these pieces are laid out on three, rather than the more orthodox two staves. Although this might seem to complicate matters when it comes to performing this set, the three-stave format actually helps considerably, allowing the eye to grasp Debussy's exotic, elaborately impressionistic sonorities far more readily than would a hopelessly cluttered two-stave layout.

The titles of the three pieces of Debussy's Images, Book II are these: (I) "Cloches à travers les feuilles," (II) "Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut," and (III) "Poissons d'or." The first is one of the most exquisitely fashioned of all Debussy's piano works, and Edward Lockspeiser has described as "a study in the contrasts of clear and muffled sonorities, designed to convey the slumberous atmosphere of an autumn landscape with an illusion of distant chimes emerging from beyond the screen of rustling leaves." The first section provides a particularly telling illustration of Debussy's unique approach to counterpoint, based on the whole tone scale, with two inner parts in canon. An independent melody is heard in the upper register, while the texture also includes bell-like repeated "A"s.

The title of the second piece is thought to have been inspired by Chinese poetry and added at the suggestion of the dedicatee Louis Laloy. The listener can discern the faint outline of an eastern temple, as slow-moving progressions of intervals of thirds and fourths bring an atmosphere of deep stillness or (says Frank Dawes) "vagueness, even." Of greatest interest, though, is the way Debussy manages to imitate the exotic sounds of Javanese Gamelan music in this gravely intoned chant-like piece. Lockspeiser also suggests that here "Debussy was obviously experimenting with the maximum variety of contrast to be obtained from the softest vibrations of the piano strings."

According to one of Debussy's biographers Léon Vallas, the idea for the title of the last piece came from an oriental lacquer-work vase illustrated with goldfish, though others have suggested the inspiration came from a Japanese print or embroidery. The music depicts the fish in their constantly twisting convolutions amid the confines of their fish bowl; in this regard, this movement is not unlike the last piece in Images, Book I, "Mouvements," in which the idea of frenetic motion within a restricted sphere of physical activity is again brought to the fore. As Dawes puts it, "Fluttering fins and rippling water are suggested by a wealth of trills and tremolos and by the delicious cadenza at the end."

-- Michael Jameson, All Music Guide