(Booklet text of CD "Portrait Erik Reischl, Volume 5")The final breakthrough as a composer came for Claude Debussy (1862-1918) around 1909. The premiere of his opera Pelléas and Mélisande in 1902 received a rather cool response from the public and press, but the performance in Londons Covent Garden on 21st May 1909, was received triumphantly. The performances of La mer and Prélude à Laprès-midi dune faune, the previous year had been a great success.
Now his music began to find recognition in Paris and as a result Gabriel Fauré who had been director of the Paris Conservatory since 1905, nominated Debussy into the Conseil Supérieur (Board of Directors) of the institution.
One of his first tasks was to compose two mandatory pieces for the conservatorys clarinet competition. In December 1909, Debussy began writing a rhapsody for clarinet and piano which he finished a month later. On 14th July 1910 the jury, which included Debussy, judged the performance of eleven candidates and the following day he wrote to his editor, Jacques Durand:
"The clarinet competition went extremely well and, to judge by the expressions on the faces of my collegues, the rhapsody was a success. [...] One of the candidates, Vandercruyssen, played it by heart and very musically. The rest were straightforward and nondescript."
The official premiere of the Rhapsodie was on 16th January 1911 in the Salle Gaveau in Paris with Prosper Mimart as solo clarinetist and it was to him that the piece had been dedicated. Debussy was so enthralled by his interpretation and commented quite spontaneously that this was one of the most pleasing pieces he had ever written. This enthusiasm would have encouraged him to adapt the work for clarinet and orchestra in the same year and it is this piece which is well known today.
It was published as Première Rhapsodie, but a second rhapsody for saxophone and orchestra was never finished.
The second mandatory piece was Petite Pièce, a work of only 36 bars and lasting just under two minutes. For the Rhapsodie the candidates had several months preparation time, but this piece was to be played prima vista, that is, by sight. The technical difficulties, therefore, are not so great, but the jury would surely have expected correctness in the execution of the punctuated rhythms which run throughout the entire piece. As a composition that was intended only for an exam, the Petite Pièce is a wonderful and charming little sanctuary.