You are here
Of the three late sonatas, the first, for flute, viola, and harp, stands out as the most Debussian. Its ambiguity of harmony and form, fragmented, halting phrases, and almost pointillistic use of color bear striking resemblance to earlier orchestral works such as La mer and Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. Its opening harp arpeggio is joined by flute acrobatics; viola sneaks in in unison with the flute and introduces a disjointed, dreamy, watery theme. A second section is more spry, with dotted rhythms and tremolos in the viola, and a quickening of tempo. The Interlude is more pastoral than the "Pastorale" first movement, a veritable romp through the meadow with a leaping, carefree melody shared by flute and viola over a tapestry of harp. The finale adds a fiery element to the ideas introduced so far: The pace is quickened, the texture becomes more dense, the tessitura lower. Added to the pentatonic-based theme, the movement recalls the influence of Eastern timbres and harmonies that so influenced his earlier work. Debussy himself recognized the shadows of the younger composer in this work, and seemed to mourn his loss in a letter to Godet dated December 11, 1916: "The sound of it is not bad, though it is not for me to speak to you of the music. I could do so, however, without embarrassment for it is the music of a Debussy whom I no longer know. It is frightfully mournful and I don't know whether one should laugh or cry - perhaps both?"
- Meg Ryan is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association's Publications Assistant.