“A young cellist whose emotionally resonant performances of both traditional and contemporary music have earned her international recognition, … Weilerstein is a consummate performer, combining technical precision with impassioned musicianship.” So stated the MacArthur Foundation when awarding Alisa Weilerstein a 2011 MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship, prompting the New York Times to respond: “Any fellowship that recognizes the vibrancy of an idealistic musician like Ms. Weilerstein … deserves a salute from everyone in classical music.” In performances marked by intensity, sensitivity, and a wholehearted immersion in each of the works she interprets, the American cellist has long proven herself to be in possession of a distinctive musical voice.
In the 2018-19 season, Weilerstein releases Transfigured Night on the Pentatone label, joined by Norway’s Trondheim Soloists for three masterworks of the First and Second Viennese Schools: Haydn’s First and Second Cello Concertos and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, from which the album takes its title. Two Scandinavian performances of the album repertoire with the same ensemble open the season. In the spring, she returns to Verklärte Nacht, this time in a trio version, when she tours Europe and the U.S. with pianist and frequent collaborator Inon Barnatan, violinist Sergey Khachatryan, and percussionist Colin Currie. Between these bookends, she gives performances of Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto with five different orchestras (the Gothenburg Philharmonic, Orquesta Nacional de España, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Valencia Orchestra, and Toronto Symphony), and tours the U.S. playing Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic led by Semyon Bychkov. She also performs the Schumann Concerto with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in Belgium and the Netherlands, and gives accounts of Saint-Saëns’s First Cello Concerto, Britten’s Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, and Bloch’s Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque in cities from San Diego to Vienna. Finally, she gives two performances, with the composer leading both Copenhagen’s DR SymfoniOrkestret and the Cincinnati Symphony, of Matthias Pintscher’s new cello concerto Un despertar (An Awakening), written for her and premiered last season. In the midst of her orchestral engagements are five solo performances of Bach’s complete cello suites, in Beverly Hills, Boston’s Celebrity Series, the Saint-Denis Festival in Paris, the Elbphilharmonie as part of the Schleswig-Holstein Festival and for Cal Performances in Berkeley. After years of playing the pieces individually, this season marks only the third in which she has ventured to perform them all.
Weilerstein’s growing and celebrated discography includes a recording of the Elgar and Elliott Carter cello concertos with Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin that was named “Recording of the Year 2013” by BBC Music; the magazine also featured the cellist on the cover of its May 2014 issue. Her next release, on which – as in concerts this season – she played Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic, topped the U.S. classical chart. Her third album, a compilation of unaccompanied 20th-century cello music titled Solo, was pronounced an “uncompromising and pertinent portrait of the cello repertoire of our time” (ResMusica, France). Solo’s centerpiece is the Kodály sonata, a signature work that Weilerstein revisits on the soundtrack of If I Stay, a 2014 feature film starring Chloë Grace Moretz in which the cellist makes a cameo appearance as herself. In 2015 she released a recording of sonatas by Chopin and Rachmaninoff, marking her duo album debut with Inon Barnatan, which earned praise from Voix des Arts as “a ravishing recording of fantastic music.” And in 2016 she released a recording of Shostakovich’s two cello concertos with the Bavarian Radio Symphony under Pablo Heras-Casado, hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as “powerful and even mesmerizing.”
Weilerstein has appeared with all the foremost orchestras of the United States and Europe, collaborating with conductors including Marin Alsop, Jiří Bělohlávek, Thomas Dausgaard, Sir Andrew Davis, Gustavo Dudamel, Sir Mark Elder, Giancarlo Guerrero, Bernard Haitink, Marek Janowski, Paavo Järvi, Lorin Maazel, Cristian Măcelaru, Zubin Mehta, Ludovic Morlot, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Peter Oundjian, Donald Runnicles, Yuri Temirkanov, Michael Tilson Thomas, Osmo Vänskä, Simone Young and David Zinman. Her major career milestones include an emotionally tumultuous account of Elgar’s concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim in Oxford, England, for the orchestra’s 2010 European Concert, which was televised live to an audience of millions worldwide and subsequently released on DVD by EuroArts. She and Barenboim reunited in 2012-13 to play Elliott Carter’s concerto on a German tour with the Berlin Staatskapelle. In 2009, she was one of four artists invited by Michelle Obama to participate in a widely celebrated and high profile classical music event at the White House, featuring student workshops hosted by the First Lady, and performances in front of an audience that included President Obama and the First Family. A month later, Weilerstein toured Venezuela as soloist with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel. She has since made numerous return visits to teach and perform with the orchestra as part of its famed El Sistema music education program.
Committed to expanding the cello repertoire, Weilerstein is an ardent champion of new music. She recently played the world premiere of Pascal Dusapin’s Outscape, giving it “the kind of debut most composers can only dream of achieving” (Chicago Tribune) with the co-commissioning Chicago Symphony, before European performances with the Stuttgart and Paris Opera Orchestras. The following season she premiered Matthias Pintscher’s cello concerto Un despertar with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which co-commissioned the piece for her, followed by a reprise with the Danish Radio Symphony. She gave the New York premiere of Pintscher’s Reflections on Narcissus under the composer’s own direction during the New York Philharmonic’s inaugural 2014 Biennial, and subsequently the two also performed the work at the BBC Proms. She has worked extensively with Osvaldo Golijov, who rewrote Azul for cello and orchestra (originally premiered by Yo-Yo Ma) for her New York premiere performance at the opening of the 2007 Mostly Mozart Festival. Weilerstein has since played the work with orchestras around the world, besides frequently programming the Argentinean composer’s Omaramor for solo cello. At the 2008 Caramoor festival, she gave the world premiere of Lera Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for Violoncello and Piano with the composer at the keyboard, and the two have subsequently reprised the work at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, the Kennedy Center, and for San Francisco Performances. Joseph Hallman, a 2014 Grammy Award nominee, has also written multiple works for Weilerstein, including a cello concerto that she premiered with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in 2008, and a trio that she recently premiered on tour with Inon Barnatan and clarinetist Anthony McGill.
Born in 1982, Weilerstein discovered her love for the cello at just two and a half, when her grandmother assembled a makeshift set of instruments from cereal boxes to entertain her while she was ill with chicken pox. Although immediately drawn to the Rice Krispies box cello, Weilerstein soon grew frustrated that it didn’t produce any sound. After persuading her parents to buy her a real cello at the age of four, she developed her natural affinity for the instrument and gave her first public performance six months later. At 13, in October 1995, she played Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo” Variations for her Cleveland Orchestra debut, and in March 1997 she made her first Carnegie Hall appearance with the New York Youth Symphony. A graduate of the Young Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Richard Weiss, the cellist also holds a degree in history from Columbia University, from which she graduated in May 2004. In November 2008, Weilerstein, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine, became a Celebrity Advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which also performs as the Cincinnati Pops, is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles. With a determination for greatness and a rich tradition that dates back over 120 years, the internationally acclaimed CSO attracts the best musicians, artists and conductors from around the world to Cincinnati. With new commissions and groundbreaking initiatives like LUMENOCITY®, One City, One Symphony, and the MusicNOW Festival collaboration, the Orchestra is committed to being a place of experimentation.
Louis Langrée began his tenure as the CSO's 13th Music Director in the 2013-2014 season with a celebrated program The New York Times said “deftly combined nods to the orchestra's history, the city's musical life and new music.” Over the Orchestra's 120-year history, it has also been led by Leopold Stokowski, Eugène Ysaÿe, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Goossens, Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers, Jesús López-Cobos, and Paavo Järvi, among others.
A champion of new music, the Orchestra has given American premieres of works by such composers as Debussy, Ravel, Mahler and Bartók and has commissioned works that have since become mainstays of the classical repertoire, including Copland's Fanfare for theCommon Man. The CSO was the first orchestra to be broadcast to a national radio audience (1921) and the third to record (1917). The Orchestra continues to commission new works and to program an impressive array of music. In recent years, the CSO has performed the world premieres of Nico Muhly's Pleasure Ground, David Lang's mountain, Caroline Shaw's Lo and Daniel Bjarnason's Collider as part of the groundbreaking collaboration with the MusicNOW Festival, Cincinnati's premier new music festival, as well as the world premiere of André Previn's Double Concerto. More recent commissions include Gunther Schuller’s Symphonic Triptych, three works set to the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou by T. J. Cole, Jonathan Bailey Holland and Kristin Kuster, as well three new concertos for orchestra by composers Sebastian Currier, Thierry Escaich and Zhou Tian, which will be released on a commercial recording in November of 2016.
The CSO was the first American orchestra to make a world tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and continues to tour domestically and internationally, most recently to Europe in 2008 and to Japan in 2009, including two concerts at Tokyo's Suntory Hall and the CSO's first-ever nationally televised concert in Japan. The CSO has performed at New York's Carnegie Hall 48 times since its debut there in 191, most recently to rave reviews in May of 2014. In January of 2016, the Orchestra performed at New York’s Lincoln Center as part of the invitational Great Performers series.
Un despertar ("An Awakening") for Violoncello and Orchestra
Ibéria 1: Par les rues et par les chemins (“Through the Streets and Lanes”)
Ibéria 2: Les parfums de la nuit (“The Frangrances of the Night”)
Ibéria 3: Le matin d’un jour de fête (“Morning of a Feast-Day”)
Rondes de printemps
THE CSO HAS A LONG AND IMPRESSIVE TRADITION for inviting composers to conduct their own music—from R. Strauss to Elgar, from Saint-Saëns to Stravinsky, the list is quite extensive. It is a great joy to welcome back Matthias Pintscher to the podium for a mix of French repertoire as well as his own Un despertar, performed by the concerto’s dedicatee, Alisa Weilerstein, former CSO Artist-in-Residence. The rich palette of orchestral color in this composition, which we also find in his conducting, adds to the immediate affinity and deep chemistry between Pintscher and the musicians of the orchestra. Rounding out this program are Ravel’s Alborado del gracioso and Debussy’s Images, both exemplifying French Impressionism with a Spanish accent.
CSO notable performances: 11 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: March 1930 (Emery Auditorium), Fritz Reiner conducting | Most recent: November 2012, Peter Oundjian conducting | The CSO recorded this work for its 1995 CD of music by Ravel, Jesús López Cobos conducting.
Duration: approx. 7 minutes
Ravel was a member of a bohemian group of artists known as Le Club des Apaches. The Apaches, formed in 1902, saw themselves as outside the artistic mainstream. The name these promoters of the avant garde chose for their club is a French slang term for “rowdy young men.” They disliked the operas of Wagner, which were enormously popular in Paris. They admired instead Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.
The Apaches held weekly meetings and attended concerts together. Because they wanted to be able to play music far into the night, composer Maurice Delage rented a garden cottage far from any house whose occupants might be disturbed. At their meetings the club members performed and discussed new music, read poetry and argued their viewpoints until late hours. Ravel often stayed on after meetings, sleeping on a cot.
Poet Léon-Paul Fargue wrote the following description of Ravel during his early years in the Apaches:
He joined us in our cafés and in our wanderings through Paris, and he shared our enthusiasms and crazes of the moment. Like us, he was determined to go to every performance of Pelléas to the last.… It seemed that everything was still to be done, to be invented, and everyone knew that, and that was in the air. We were happy, cultivated and aggressive, especially at concerts where we never hesitated to demonstrate, red in the face and chin in the air like a drawbridge, the burning and spontaneous justice of our point of view.
It was in this passionate atmosphere of conflicting ideas and sensations, during these crowded hours where everything was worth its weight in richness and dignity, that the works of Ravel took shape, silently, in his patient and heroic soul. Here there was no question of failure or mediocrity, of favor-seeking or jobbery, of music for drawing rooms or bars, or of music of the type which panders to fashionable sentimentality. Only of works, in the purest sense of the term.… This man, who was profoundly intelligent, versatile, precise and as learned as it was possible to be, and who did everything with a facility that was proverbial, had the character and qualities of an artisan—and there was nothing he liked better than to be compared to one. He liked doing things, and doing things well; everything that issued from his brain, whatever reservations the critics may have had about his inspiration, bears the stamp of perfection, a certain perfection. He knew that a thing—a poem, novel, picture, garden, love affair or ceremony—all such events or dramas can have what is called “finish,” to employ a term used in the workshop. And it was his passion to offer the public works which were “finished” and polished to the last degree.
KEYNOTE. In 1905 Ravel wrote a set of five piano pieces, known as Miroirs (“Mirrors”), each of which is dedicated to a different member of the Apaches. The fourth piece, Alborada del gracioso, was for M.D. Calvocoressi, the critic who was largely responsible for the group’s interest in Russian music. Pianist Ricardo Viñes, another Apache, played the first performance in 1906. Years later, after the Apaches had disbanded, Ravel orchestrated just the one movement.
The title can be translated “Morning Serenade of the Jester.” A gracioso is a jester in Spanish comedy, analogous to the fool in Shakespeare’s plays. Such a jester assisted musicians in performing an alborada, a serenade by a lover to his still-sleeping sweetheart.
Born: January 29, 1971, Marl, Germany
Un despertar (“An Awakening”)
Work composed: 2017, co-commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Danish Radio Symphony
Premiere: March 23, 2017, Boston, François-Xavier Roth conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Alisa Weilerstein, cello
CSO notable performances: These are the first CSO performances of the concerto
Duration: approx. 25 minutes
At 48, Matthias Pintscher is one of the most prominent composers on the international scene. Also in high demand as a conductor, he is the music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, the famous new-music ensemble in Paris founded by Pierre Boulez; he also serves as the music director of the Lucerne Festival Academy. His compositions—stage works, orchestral, chamber and vocal music—have been performed all over the world. He possesses a unique musical imagination and a virtually boundless ability to create new sounds. Those sounds, one hastens to add, are never mere “sound effects” but are endowed with dramatic meaning both in an of themselves and through the contexts in which they are placed. Pintscher often approaches musical composition as a kind of “imaginary theater,” where musical gestures and their interrelationships are treated like characters and situations in a drama. Pintscher took over this notion from Hans Werner Henze, from whom he received valuable advice at the beginning of his career. Yet his language is less traditional than Henze’s; his unconventional use of the orchestral instruments owes a great deal to another German composer, Helmut Lachenmann, whose aesthetic is very far removed from Henze’s (their public debate became famous in Germany). Pintscher has thus created a synthesis between various trends of German music that were previously considered antithetical. His output shows that uncompromising modernity in the means is not incompatible with expression and dramatic meaning.
The cello concerto Un despertar (“An Awakening”) takes its title from Mexican poet Octavio Paz (1914–98), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990. Pintscher said about the poem:
How this old man stands at the window and looks out into his snow-covered life, in the silence of the fine snow, analyzing his whole life, that’s an emotional state which inspired me … a state of awakening and self-knowledge.
KEYNOTE. Accordingly, the concerto is a deeply meditative work, with the volume often on the soft side. Marked “very slow and evocative,” the opening emerges from the mysterious sounds of brushes circling on drum membranes, before the solo cello enters with some cadenza-like, fleeting passagework. Jumping from the lowest register to the highest, the cello part becomes more insistent and more passionate, as the orchestration, too, fills out more and more. A new, more “vehement and agitated” section begins with some powerful orchestral accents, further energizing the solo part as well. The music gradually “awakens” with ever more vigorous rhythms, finally erupting in a violent tutti eliciting an equally powerful response from the cello. Yet immediately afterwards, the orchestra drops out and the soloist finishes the work alone, with a fast run spanning the entire range of the cello, and fading out on a series of eerie harmonics some hushed, toneless bowing on the bridge of the instrument.
Born: August 22, 1862, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a suburb of Paris Died: March 25, 1918, Paris
CSO notable performances (complete Images): 2 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: November 1981, Bernard Rubenstein conducting | Most recent: February 1988, Michael Gielen conducting
Duration: approx. 36 minutes
The composition of the three orchestral Images occupied Claude Debussy from 1905 to 1912. Ibéria and Rondes de printemps were each begun around 1905 (originally planned as works for two pianos); Ibéria was completed late in 1908 and Rondes in the following year. Ibéria was premiered on February 20, 1910, with Gabriel Pierné conducting, and Rondes a few days later, on March 2, under the direction of the composer. Gigues, begun in 1909, was finished, with some assistance in the orchestration by André Caplet, in 1912. It was first perfomed on January 26, 1913, under Caplet.
The association of music and images is one of the most fundamental characteristics of Debussy’s art. In addition to the many specific images on which he based compositions (from La Mer to the two books of piano preludes), the word Images as a title appears in an early set of piano pieces (1894) and in two better-known sets for piano (1905–08), before the set of orchestral Images (completed in 1912). It is significant that each of these sets contains three movements, while the second orchestral image, Ibéria, which Debussy placed between Gigues and Rondes de printemps, itself having a three-part structure.
It was natural for Debussy to think in musical “images.” He was a great lover of art and counted many painters among his friends. But the artistic inspiration never meant a mere musical representation of a subject treated in a painting. The relationship is less direct; these are “images,” seen or dreamed by the mind’s eye, and then realized in sound rather than in color.
In the case of the orchestral Images, the visions are primarily about motion, and combine the senses of sight, hearing, and even smell, as in the middle section of Ibéria. As Charles Baudelaire, one of Debussy’s favorite poets, put it: Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent... (“The fragrances, the colors, and the sounds answer one another...”)
Debussy originally planned to call the first piece of the triptych Gigues tristes (“Sad gigues”), according to a letter to his publisher Durand written in 1905. No doubt, the idea of turning a cheerful dance-tune into a melancholy melody was already present in his mind years before the composition was actually written.
The melody itself is derived from an English country dance or jig, related to but different from the Baroque gigue. Debussy had visited England on numerous occasions; it may be that he came across this melody on one of his trips, or he may have borrowed it from the song “Dansons la gigue” (“Let’s dance the jig”) by his contemporary Charles Bordes (1863–1909).
After a brief introduction that sets the tone by a typically Debussyan combination of harp, celesta and woodwinds, the jig melody is played by the unaccompanied oboe d’amore (a double-reed instrument whose range of pitch lies between those of the oboe and the English horn). The other woodwinds and the horns play a faster rhythmic variant of this tune while the oboe d’amore keeps repeating its own, more soulful version of it. The music gets more and more agitated as the rhythmic pattern of the faster-moving material is developed in a powerful orchestral crescendo that suddenly breaks off. The sad jig tune returns; the tempo gradually slows down, the music gets ever softer, and finally fades into silence.
André Caplet, who helped Debussy orchestrate Gigues, wrote about the work in 1923:
“Gigues”...Sad Gigues...tragic Gigues...The portrait of a soul....a soul in pain, uttering its slow, lingering lamentation on the reed of an oboe d’amore. A wounded soul, so reticent that it dreads and shuns all lyrical effusion, and quickly hides its sobs behind the mask and the angular gestures of a grotesque marionette. Again, it suddenly wraps itself in a mantle of the most phlegmatic indifference. The ever-changing moods, the rapidity with which they merge, clash, and separate to unite once more, make the interpretation of the work very difficult....Underneath the convulsive shudderings, the sudden efforts at restraint, the pitiful grimaces, which serve as a kind of disguise, we recognize the very soul of our dear, great Claude Debussy. We find there the spirit of sadness, infinite sadness, lying stretched as in the bed of a river whose flow, constantly augmented from new sources, increases inevitably, mercilessly.
French musicians had often been inspired by the rhythms of Spanish music at least since Bizet’s Carmen (1875). Two composers from the generation preceding Debussy in particular owed their fame to their “Spanish” compositions: Edouard Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole (1875) and Emmanuel Chabrier’s España (1883) must have been familiar to the young Debussy, who himself wrote the piano piece “La soirée dans Grenade” (“Evening in Grenada”) in 1903 (No. 2 of Estampes).
It is interesting that, aside from one short trip across the border, Debussy never visited Spain. He knew, however, the music of some of his Spanish colleagues such as Manuel de Falla and Isaac Albéniz. (The latter had used the title “Iberia” in a magnificent suite for piano published in four volumes between 1906 and 1908.) Falla had warm words of praise for Debussy’s Ibéria, which he claimed had “a considerable and decisive influence on young Spanish composers.”
The first section of Ibéria, titled “Par les rues et par les chemins” (“In the Streets and Byways”) immediately creates a Spanish atmosphere with the sound of the castanets. The whole town is out in the streets on a warm summer evening. People are walking, talking, singing, and dancing. The clarinets play a dance tune marked by the composer as “elegant and rhythmic” and harmonized with parallel chords, one of Debussy’s recurrent techniques. Later an equally cheerful second theme is heard on the horns and clarinets, soon combined with a third melody which, in contrast, is more lyrical and expressive in character.
The first theme with the castanet accompaniment finally returns (now played by the oboes instead of the clarinets). At last, the noisy parade is over; the people go home and the section ends pianissimo.
The second section is called “Les parfums de la nuit” (“The Fragrances of the Night”). Falla perceived here “the intoxicating spell of Andalusian nights,” and he must have known since he was born in that province of Spain. There are several factors that contribute to the magic of this movement: first of all, a virtuosic orchestration that makes a sophisticated use of divided strings (at one point, the first violins are split into seven different groups, all playing with special techniques such as glissandos and harmonics). The celesta part is every bit as “celestial” as the instrument’s name. The chords are again “parallel,” with every part moving by the same interval regardless of keys; as a result, we get the so-called “whole-tone scale” (C, D, E, F-sharp, G-sharp, A-sharp) in which each of the six steps is a whole step higher than the preceding one (no half-steps). This scale is incompatible with the traditional major-minor system because its degrees are equidistant, they are all equally important, and any note may serve as a temporary or permanent resting-point. This is why the music seems to be hovering in the air, never touching the ground or reaching a clear closure.
The third movement of Ibéria, “Le matin d’un jour de fête” (“The Morning of a Festival Day”) follows upon the night without interruption. As the day begins to break, we hear the distant sound of a drum with some soft string pizzicatos. The night music returns for a moment in the form of a three-measure flute solo. The violins and violas imitate the sound of guitars; Debussy instructs half the players to hold their instruments like guitars. The clarinets play their solo “very cheerfully, exaggerating the accents.” The violin solo, full of double stops, must be “free and whimsical” (libre et fantasque); the oboe and English horn parts are marked “merry and whimsical” (gai et fantasque).
According to his correspondence with his publisher, Debussy had some difficulty choosing from three different ways of ending the piece. “Shall I toss up between them,” he wrote, “or try to find a fourth solution?” He finally opted for a big crescendo, “brisk and vigorous” (vif et nerveux); the last word belongs to the trombones, which cap the piece with a stupendous three-part glissando.
Rondes de printemps (“Spring Rounds”)
This is one of the rare instances Debussy quoted a French folk song in one of his works. He seems to have had a special fondness for “Nous n’irons plus au bois” [“We won’t go to the woods any more”], a melody to which he had also alluded in his piano piece “Jardins sous la pluie” [“Gardens in the Rain”], from the cycle Estampes. In “Rondes de printemps” this melodic fragment is transformed in various ways, some derived from the Baroque contrapuntal techniques known as “stretto” and “augmentation.”
Although the work is based on a French folksong, Debussy quoted from an Italian traditional song, “La Maggiolata,” or “Welcoming the month of May,” on the first page. The lines, which appear in French translation, read: Vive le Mai, bienvenu soit le Mai avec son gonfalon sauvage (“Long live May, May be welcome with its wild banner”). This is also the only movement of Images to bear a dedication, to Debussy’s second wife Emma.
The French folksong is preceded by an introduction that evokes the spring by airy woodwind passages accompanied by harp glissandos. This melody itself is presented in an asymmetrical meter of five beats (written as 15/8 as each beat is subdivided in three). The general atmosphere is one of warmth and serenity, though at the 1910 premiere, according to Debussy biographer Léon Vallas, “the very high pitch of the violins, the sudden gusts of thirds in the wind instruments, the rough sonorities of certain passages, suggested to some people icy blasts rather than the gentle breezes of spring.” After undergoing various rhythmic transformations, the folksong is played in long and strongly accented notes by the clarinets and the English horn, only to crumble away to tiny motifs, suddenly cut short by a powerful harp-celesta glissando that brings the piece to a close.
The following is from the program notes to the premiere of Rondes de printemps (1910), by Charles Malherbe, possibly based on a consultation with Debussy:
These are real pictures in which the composer has endeavored to convey, aurally, impressions received by the eye. He attempts to blend the two forms of sensation, in order to intensify them. The melody, with its infinitely varied rhythms, corresponds to the multiplicity of lines in a drawing; the orchestra represents a huge palette where each instrument supplies its own color. Just as the painter delights in contrasts of tone, in the play of light and shade, so the musician takes pleasure in the shock of unexpected dissonances and the fusion of unusual timbres; he wants us to visualize what he makes us hear, and the pen he holds between his fingers becomes a brush. This is musical impressionism of a very special kind and of a very rare quality.