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Programme Notes

Information for Wed 13 Jun 2007 7.30pm

Achille-Claude Debussy (1862–1918) Three Préludes (1910–13), orchestrated by Colin Matthews

1 La Puerta del Vino 2 Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir 3 Ce qu’a vu le Vent d’Ouest

Making orchestral versions of all 24 of Debussy’s Préludes, a project commissioned by the Hallé Orchestra in 2001 and completed earlier this year, has been an extraordinary journey. I am no pianist myself, but have taken much pleasure in trying to find my way through these wonderful pieces, composed between 1910 and 1913, for as long as I can remember. Some of them seem almost as if they were conceived as orchestral miniatures; others are so pianistic that to translate them into orchestral form has meant substantially reworking them. Always I’ve had it at the back of my mind that I should try to make them feel so natural in their new shape that it would be a very hard task for anyone, not knowing the originals, to convert them back into piano pieces.

The particular joy of making these transcriptions has been the opportunity to get inside the mind of one of my favourite composers. But it brought with it many challenges, not least that of trying to find an equivalent to the piano sonorities of which Debussy was such a master. Although my aim has never been to write a pastiche of Debussy’s own orchestral style, his language is so individual that almost any form of arrangement is bound to retain the essence of the composer.

‘La Puerta del Vino’, inspired by a postcard of a gate near the Alhambra sent to Debussy by Manuel de Falla, is a habanera, marked by Debussy ‘with abrupt oppositions of extreme violence and passionate sweetness’. Debussy’s fascination with Spain here produces, as in Ibéria, some of his most evocative music.

‘Les sons et les parfums ...’ is a line from Baudelaire’s ‘Harmonie du Soir’, a poem which Debussy had set in 1888. Here, and in La Puerta, I found it necessary to change the key of the original so that it would work orchestrally. If in the process this Prélude has lost some of its mysterious depth, it has perhaps gained in range and sonority.

‘Ce qu’a vu le Vent d’Ouest’ derives either from a description of the West Wind by Hans Christian Andersen, or from Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ (Debussy left few clues as to the origin of his titles). A Liszt-like study of great bravura, it was the first of the Préludes that I transcribed, with the feeling that, if this one were possible, the rest might follow.

Programme note © Colin Matthews

A brief guide to Colin Matthews

Colin Matthews was born in London in 1946 and studied music at Nottingham and Sussex. He worked with Benjamin Britten in Aldeburgh from 1972–76, and with Imogen Holst, and collaborated with Deryck Cooke for many years on the performing version of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. From 1992–99 he was Associate Composer with the London Symphony Orchestra, writing amongst other works, a Cello Concerto for Rostropovich. In 1997 his choral and orchestral work Renewal, commissioned for the 50th anniversary of BBC Radio 3, was given the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for large-scale composition. His ballet score Hidden Variables opened the Royal Ballet’s 1999/2000 season, and the large-scale ensemble piece Continuum was toured in Europe by the BCMG and Simon Rattle in 2000. Recent works include Reflected Images for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Berceuse for Dresden for the New York Philharmonic. Turning Point was premiered by the Concertgebouw Orchestra in January 2007. He is currently Composer-in-Association with the Hallé.


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