Dalle 6 alle 7: Danses

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Published on: 10 March 2007


The Danses sacree et profane were composed by Claude Debussy (1862–1918) at the request of the firm of Pleyel, manufacturers of musical instruments. In 1894 Gustave Lyon had invented a new mechanism for the harp, which provided the full chromatic scale by the use of twelve strings to the octave, crossing each other at an angle so that the diatonic and chromatic notes were clearly distinguished, yet both accessible to the player’s hands. A rough analogy is the arrangement in which a piano has the black keys raised above the white. The previous design of the harp had had only seven strings to the octave, with a series of pedals supplied to provide chromatic notes.
Some time later, a class in the new instrument was established at the Brussels Conservatoire. As a test piece, and also, probably, to promote the use of this instrument, Pleyel and the Conservatoire commissioned a work from Debussy. The Danses were first performed in 1904. As a publicity exercise for the chromatic harp they seem to have been a complete failure; performers and composers continued to employ the standard harp with the pedal mechanism (watch our soloist’s feet today!)
However they were much more successful from the artistic point of view, and the Danses sacree et profane have become an important part of the harp repertoire.
The Danse sacree is a piece of restrained and gentle harmonies, its “sacred” character suggested by the unison line of the opening and the parallel chords first heard at the entry of the harp. A middle section features more complex harmonies, with brief solos from violin and viola; the opening harp theme returns, and subsides onto a bass line picked out by the soloist’s left hand. This leads without a break into the Danse profane.
The “profanity” of the second dance is not a matter of vulgarity (can anyone imagine Debussy writing vulgar music?) but simply proclaims it, in contrast to the first, as “secular” or “worldly”. It begins, in fact, as a valse lente: there is a suggestion of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies for piano, which Debussy had orchestrated in 1896. In a middle section the tempo drops by half, the strings fall silent, and the harpist provides her own accompaniment with six–against–four, five–against–three and even more complex rhythmic patterns. The valse returns, and builds up to a glowing climax of string chords and harp glissandi.

Le due Danses (sacrée et profane, 1904) di Debussy, per arpa cromatica e orchestra, sono state composte su commissione per valorizzare un nuovo tipo di arpa, con due file di corde, ideato per rimpiazzare i nuovi modelli a pedali.
Nonostante la sua adozione ai conservatori di Parigi e Bruxelles, lo strumento ebbe vita breve a causa delle difficoltà di diteggiatura e altri problemi, ma le Danses di Debussy, invece, ebbero successo e divennero in breve una parte importante del repertorio dell’arpa tradizionale.
L’aspetto “sacro” della prima è suggerito dagli unisoni e dagli accordi paralleli della parte iniziale, mentre il carattere “profano” della seconda deriva dall’andamento di valzer lento un po’ alla Satie, di cui Debussy aveva orchestrato, pochi anni prima, le famose Gymnopedies.

Claude Debussy – Danse sacrée et danse profane

    Frederike Wagner, arpa
    Sophia Larsdotter, Andrea Pasquetto, violini
    Ragnhild Hammer, viola
    Andrea Battistoni, violoncello
    Anna Zerlotto, contrabbasso

Esecuzione registrata presso il Conservatorio Dall’Abaco, Verona, 30/01/2007

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