Many great composers have accepted commissions for new works, and then never managed to bring them to fruition; Debussy was certainly no exception. A composer who found it exceptionally difficult to write anything to order, Debussy found the composition of his Rhapsodie for alto saxophone and orchestra -- which had been requested in by Elisa Hall, President of the Boston Orchestral Club -- a particularly disagreeable task. Hall had taken up the saxophone -- as yet still rather unfashionable prior to the jazz era, when the instrument came into its own -- in the hope that it would improve a respiratory weakness from which she suffered. With little regard for the cost, she set about commissioning a substantial array of new works for the instrument, which then had a very small repertory, and approached several prominent French composers, including Debussy. Debussy , who cared little for the instrument and knew almost nothing of its technical capabilities, would not fulfill the commission for the Rhapsodie for several years; indeed, when he did submit his score, it was incomplete and unorchestrated. Not easily deterred, Hall traveled to Paris, pressing for a completion date.
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These circumstances, initially irksome and exasperating, became the perfect catalyst for a struggling composer who hadn't written a note of music in nearly a year. However, despite having been paid his fee on the commission from Hall in and from publisher Jacques Durand in , Debussy inexplicably chose to retain the score of Rapsodie until his death in March Debussy's original and specific orchestration is the basis for this realization, with slight modifications made in strict accordance with his compositional techniques.
After Rapsodie pour orchestre et saxophone was published by Durand and premiered in Paris in , the holograph sketch was finally sent to Elise Hall.
The following investigation is a detailed account of this greatly misunderstood chapter of Debussy's life. As the Rapsodie pour orchestre et saxophone remained unpublished and unperformed during Debussy's lifetime, little was known about the nature of the work.
It appears, rather as an orchestral tableau in which the singular character of the principal instrument's timbre is chiefly displayed, unlike virtuoso writing, which does not show off this aspect.
By the importance of its proportions, the richness of its colors, the rare zest of its musical quality, this work, which allies itself to the best which has been written by its author, is worthy of the Nocturnes and Images. Born in Paris on 15 April and spending her early years in France, Elizabeth Boyer Coolidge was the daughter of a prominent Bostonian family.
In she married Richard J. Hall, the first American surgeon to perform a successful appendectomy. In the mids, Mrs. Hall suffered an illness that left her hearing impaired, and at the advice of her husband she began saxophone lessons as a way to prevent further hearing loss. When Dr. Hall died in , his widow returned to Boston where she continued saxophone lessons with principal oboist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Georges Longy.
Upon discovering a dearth of repertoire for orchestral saxophone, Elise Hall set out to commission new works. The first of these, Charles Martin Loeffler's Divertissement espagnol pour orchestre et saxophone , was premiered on 29 January , at Copley Hall. Hall displayed a beautiful quality of tone and technical mastery.
It is a pity that the literature of this peculiarly impressive instrument is not larger. The composer certainly needed the money, as he was in the midst of a legal battle to repay debts owed to the heirs of his former publisher, Georges Hartmann.
To begin a new work appears to me like a perilous leap, and one risks breaking one's back. Writing to his first wife, Lilly, on 31 May , he explains the immediate circumstances: It appears that Longy and the saxophone lady are in Paris! Naturally, the musical ideas take particular care to flee from me, like wry butterflies, and I spend hours of indescribable irritation.
The fact that I would like to achieve something very good, in order to reward these people for their patience, only makes matters worse. Hommage de reconnaissance. As the newly appointed president of the Boston Orchestral Club, Elise Hall now had a busy career presenting the new scores which she had commissioned.
As mentioned above, all surviving first-hand accounts of Hall's Parisian performance allude to a successful, indeed triumphant, concert, but Debussy's biographers searched for reasons to explain Debussy's reluctance to finish Hall's commission.
Meanwhile, the composer obviously had other things on his mind, deciding that June to leave his first wife and elope with Emma Bardac to England; the lovers took flight in July. Lilly Debussy's failed suicide attempt in October and subsequent lawsuit against her husband became a widely reported scandal. In the spring of , Hall performed for a second time in Paris.
In September , one month before the premiere of La mer , and over four years since Hall's commission, Debussy apparently had second thoughts about his behavior and sought an amicable resolution. Faced with this dilemma, the composer retained the manuscript, to which he later added:. In the late s, as a favored pupil, he was given the original manuscript of the Requiem and asked by the composer to create a reduction for choir and piano, which was published in This version was first performed in Roger-Ducasse immediately began work on Rapsodie in late April and had made considerable progress within a few weeks.
Writing to Lambinet, he states: I have just completed I repeat myself? The music has been transposed for alto saxophone up a major sixth , with multi-measure rests and piano cues indicated. The pitches on this manuscript conform exactly to Debussy's sketch, and although not specifically indicated, Roger-Ducasse included the saxophone with the tutti section between mm.
Only a few changes were made to dynamics, articulations, and rhythms. This Article in not complete. It is an extract.
Beyond orchestration, specific structural alterations made to Rapsodie indicate that Roger-Ducasse was intimately acquainted with Debussy's mathematical methods of composition. These techniques, some of which are outlined below, are discussed in detail in Roy Howat's Debussy in Proportion.
While the Hall manuscript has a total of measures, the orchestral realization [MS ] used to engrave the Durand edition, contains a total of measures. These revisions were not the result of carelessness, but of carefully fulfilling Debussy's original plan. The mathematical formula used to arrive at the number of measures in Rapsodie follows the definition of Golden Section proportions: the smaller is to the larger as the larger is to the whole.
The Hall manuscript, at measures, and the original saxophone transcription and piano-score arrangement, both at , are inconsistent with this formula. Caplet, as conductor and as one who received two commissions from Hall , and Roger-Ducasse as score preparer, were both responsible for an authoritative first performance of Rapsodie , so it is reasonable to conclude they consulted each other regarding such specific details.
Golden Section proportions of Rapsodie. For this revision, the original rhythmic values of two measures were simply halved. The Rapsodie manuscripts also indicate that Roger-Ducasse had a deep understanding of Debussy's techniques of orchestration from around to , the years of La mer.
Here, the tuba is introduced into the score for the first time at the center of the spiral in m. Golden Section spiral of Rapsodie , mm. Additional evidence even suggests Roger-Ducasse understood that the composer himself intended that the ratio of saxophone smaller to orchestra-without-saxophone larger would follow Golden Section proportions. This may well reveal the meaning of the syntax of the title and renders all subsequent re-orchestrations of the work inauthentic.
Entrusted to his careful supervision, the integrity of Rapsodie pour orchestre et saxophone , as published by Durand, has remained intact. These were sent in June to Durand's chief proofreader, Lucien Garban, who obviously used Debussy's holograph [Hall manuscript] to authenticate the accuracy of the Roger-Ducasse scores.
It appears this instrument is once again fashionable—Fl. The orchestral score manuscript of Rapsodie [MS ], the piano reduction with saxophone solo [MS bis] and alternate English horn solo , Garban's transcription for piano four-hands, and a set of orchestral parts were engraved in the fall of While he did include instruments and revisions not indicated on Debussy's sketch, all of his decisions were based on a thorough investigation of Debussy's methods.
This was a laborious and painstaking process, which involved hundreds of small decisions in order to create complete parts for every instrument. As indicated, it cannot be discounted that Roger-Ducasse may well have consulted Caplet.
Thus, while Roger-Ducasse was not the true orchestrator of Rapsodie , he most certainly prepared the score with care and discretion, which is to say he was not merely a copyist.
However, Debussy's posthumous contribution was finally given to the public, and the original manuscript finally delivered to Hall by Caplet, perhaps? She would never perform nor hear the Rapsodie. Debussy's Rapsodie pour orchestre et saxophone Revisited. Print Email. Debussy's Rapsodie pour orchestre et saxophone Revisited James R. Noyes Email: This email address is being protected from spambots.
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