Debussy: Ariettes oubliées

(Booklet text of CD "Portrait Erik Reischl, Volume 4")

Paul Verlaine’s “Romances sans paroles” is a collection of poems written in 1874 during the vagabond period of his life which he shared with the poet Jean-Arthur Rimaud. Symbolism influences the greater part of his work and is obvious here for the first time. Words become music, become tones and colours in the finest nuances and shades. In January 1885 Debussy began to write music for two of the poems after having been inspired by the musical quality of Verlaine’s poetry.

After winning the “Grand Prix de Rome” for his cantata “L’Enfant prodigue”, the young composer went to Rome only days later, where he was to remain for three years in the Villa Medici.

The separation from Madame Vasnier for whom he had written nearly all of his songs and the absence from his beloved city Paris were hard to bear. It is probable that the last four songs of the collection, written between 1885 and 1888, were to be a present for Madame Vanier when he returned.

The songs were originally published individually in 1888 under the title “Ariettes”. Debussy sent Mme Vasnier a copy of the first publication with a handwritten dedication. However he made a final dedication in the second publication which appeared as a complete collection in 1903 in a revised form and titled “Ariettes oubliées”. On this occasion the recipient of the dedication was the soprano Miss Mary Garden, who had taken the role of Mélisande in the premiere of Debussy’s opera “Pelléas et Mélisande”.

For the first time Ariettes oubliées adhered closely to the format of the poetry. There is no longer a repetition of texts found in the early Vasnier songs. The melismatic style gives way almost completely to a composing in which every syllable is represented by a note. Even the formal structure of Debussy’s songs adheres in its construction and content to each of the poems. This creates in “Il pleure dans mon coeur”, for example, a remarkable imbalance of the individual parts due to the thought processes in the text. Quite often Debussy focuses on important parts of the text by using recitative techniques (“Quoi! nulle trahison?”), or by voicing a whole sentence on a single tone (at the beginning of “Spleen”).

Debussy lets music serve the word and through this he is able to achieve a musical analogy to Verlaine’s postulate.

(Erik Reischl, Translation Elisabeth Ann Krüger)