Debussy: Selections from Children’s Corner

ACHILLE-CLAUDE DEBUSSY 

BORN: August 22, 1862. Saint Germain-en-Laye, Department of Seine-et-Oise, France

DIED: March 25, 1918. Paris, France

COMPOSED: 1908

WORLD PREMIERE: December 18 1908, Harold Bauer was soloist

INSTRUMENTATION: Piano solo

DURATION: For the three movements heard here, about 8 mins

Writing of Claude Debussy the composer Alfredo Casella observed: “To the end [he] remained what the French call grand enfant. That same wonderful innocence and limpidity of feeling which is the fundamental characteristic of his art transpired in all his deeds and words. At fifty he amused himself more than did his little daughter Chouchou with the toys brought home for her by her mother.” Chouchou (officially Claude-Emma) was only two-and-a-half-years-old in 1908, when her father dedicated to her his Children’s Corner, six short movements for piano, involving things that relate to children. He began with the Serenade for the Doll (eventually placed third in the suite) and worked from there, touching on children’s piano exercises (in Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum), Chouchou’s toy elephant (Jimbo’s Lullaby), and then, after Serenade for the Doll, a delicate winter scene (The Snow is Dancing), a pastoral respite (The Little Shepherd), and a riotous music-hall amalgam (Golliwogg’s Cakewalk, Golliwogg being a doll in a then-popular series). The English titles presumably relate to the fact that Chouchou’s nanny was British.—James M. Keller

James M. Keller is Program Annotator of the San Francisco Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. His book Chamber Music: A Listener’s Guide (Oxford University Press) is now also available as an e-book and as an Oxford paperback. 

(June 2019)