Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Claude Debussy

One often encounters Fêtes, the second of Debussy's three nocturnes for orchestra, in both the concert hall and on recordings. The first of the trio, Nuages, is also popular, but the last, Sirènes, is less frequently heard, not least because it requires the addition of a wordless female chorus. Fêtes, without doubt, is the most colorful of the three, offering both imaginative orchestration and an uncomplicated, direct expressive manner that engage most listeners on first hearing.

The work opens with a lively rhythm in the strings that recalls early Wagner. Clarinets scamper about and soon flutes and bassoons join in above the rhythm, now carried by the lower strings. The mood is playful and bright here, with several motifs appearing, the festive music brimming with numerous ideas. Soon, the tempo slows and a deliberate rhythm is presented by drums and harps amid otherwise hushed sonorities. The music builds mysteriously at first, then grows more colorful and exotic. At the same time an insistent, even proudly militaristic manner gradually takes hold, before the music finally erupts mightily. The material from the opening reappears, but elements from the middle section linger in the main and subsidiary lines. The mood verges on further eruptions but finally becomes tranquil, and then the piece ends quietly, but not before a few final echoes from the middle section are given.