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FastNotes

  • Debussy composed a “Ballade slave” in 1890, and in 1903 he revised and republished it simply as Ballade. Colored both with exuberance and melancholy, it shares kinship with the far more popular Arabesques written shortly thereafter.

In a letter to his publisher, Debussy wrote of “the art of turning the pedal into a kind of breathing which I observed in Liszt when I had the fortune to hear him in Rome.” That he was referring to an event which had taken place decades earlier confirms the lasting impression the master made on the younger composer. Debussy was 21 when he won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1884. The scholarship granted a three-year stay at the French Academy in Rome, where on three occasions in January of 1886, Liszt and Debussy met. 

Upon returning to Paris, Debussy began to achieve a broader recognition and the publication of solo piano pieces soon followed, among them a “Ballade slave” in 1890. Though Debussy had indeed spent three months in Russia during his late teens, there is little about this enchanting piece that sounds remotely Russian or Slavic, and in 1903 he would revise and republish it simply as Ballade. Colored both with exuberance and melancholy, it shares kinship with the far more popular Arabesques written shortly thereafter. Its neglect is inexplicable and it is a concert rarity.

– Grant Hiroshima