Au clair de la lune
La Romance d'Ariel
At the age of eighteen, Debussy worked for a Parisian voice teacher by the name of Mme Moreau-Sainti, accompanying the students in her studio. He fell passionately in love with one of Mme Moreau-Sainti's pupils, Marie-Blanche Vasnier, who was fourteen years her senior and married. Their liaison had a decisive impact on Debussy's evolution as a composer. The infatuated young man composed no fewer than twenty-seven songs for Mme Vasnier between 1881 and 1884. He recopied thirteen of them in a book which he offered to her with the following dedication: “To Madame Vasnier, These songs that have lived only through her and would lose their charming grace were they nevermore to issue from her melodious fairy mouth. The author is eternally grateful. ACD”. The majority of the songs were not printed during Debussy's lifetime (a few are unpublished to this day). Yet these youthful essays are very significant. It was here that Debussy developed his extraordinary sensitivity to the poetic word, and his unmistakable personal voice occasionally appears in these songs, which are now sensuous and now comical.
It was also here that Debussy first came into contact with two great poets who would play an important role in his later works: Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) and Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), who wrote the poems set in a first and last songs in the present selection, respectively. The text of the second song is by Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), a pre-eminent member of the older generation of poets, followed by a setting of Théodore de Banville (1823-1891), a poet much appreciated by Debussy but largely forgotten today. (Here Debussy plays with the well-known French song “Au clair de la lune.”) The words of the three remaining songs are by Paul Bourget (1852-1935), who started out as a poet but achieved his greatest success as a novelist later in life. (One of the Bourget songs evokes Ariel, the airy spirit from Shakespeare's Tempest.)
Sakari Oramo has been working on Debussy's early songs since 1995; he has orchestrated a set of them for his concerts with his wife, soprano Anu Komsi.