In this masterclass, Professor Michel Béroff works with student Lvjie Zhang on interpretation, phrasing, and contrast in Debussy’s L'isle joyeuse. He begins the class by describing the inspiration for the piece and the imagery that should be conveyed through the music. Professor Béroff then discusses Debussy’s style and how the performer can sometimes play with significant freedom, but other times must be extremely precise and should closely follow all the written markings. He helps the student understand where each of these instances occur and how to bring out the contrast between them. He also encourages the student to imitate the different orchestral instruments to produce more sound colors and characters. He offers advice on when and how much to use the pedal, and helps the student achieve a better balance between the hands, both when they should be equal and when they act more as melody and accompaniment. Overall, Professor Béroff challenges the student to indulge her imagination further to bring even more atmosphere to the work.
The context of the work and the images it may conjure.
Playing with freedom and exaggeration.
Providing contrast between the rhythmic and the more melodic, flowing passages.
Imitating orchestral colors.
Precisely following the written markings.
Balancing the two hands and the pedal.
Claude Debussy composed twenty-four préludes for solo piano during his career, which have been organized into two books. The first book was completed in just a few months and published in 1910. A few notable composers had previously published sets of piano préludes, such as J.S. Bach and Chopin, but Debussy’s differed in that they did not correspond to particular keys (despite writing the same number of préludes as existing keys) or follow a specific form. The préludes can be performed as standalone works or in groups in any order; most last between two and four minutes. Interestingly, though each prélude has a title, these titles are included at the end rather than the beginning. This is likely so that the performer is able to play the music with an unbiased approach upon first reading. The titles can thus be used more as suggestions, though they do offer colorful imagery. These works are known and beloved for their broad range of inspiration, atmospheric soundscapes, and unique harmonies.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this piano masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Michel Béroff’s feedback and comments.
He won, in 1967, the first prize at the first international Olivier Messiaen piano competition
Michel Beroff was born in France in 1950. After graduating from the Paris conservatoire in 1966, he won the following year the first prize at the first international Olivier Messiaen piano competition. He has been since considered one of the most outstanding interpreter of Messiaen’s music. He then went on to play with the most prestigious orchestras around the world under the direction of such conductors as Abbado, Barenboim, Bernstein, Boulez, Dohnanyi, Dorati, Dutoit, Eschenbach, Gielen, Inbal, Jochum, Leinsdorf, Masur, Ozawa, Previn, Rostropovitch, Sinopoli, Solti, Tennsted, Tilson-Thomas, Zinman. As a chamber music partner , he has been very active playing with Martha Argerich , Barbara Hendricks Jean- Philippe Collard, Augustin Dumay, Pierre Amoyal, Lynn Harrell.
As a conductor, Michel Beroff has been conducting the chamber orchestra de la Scala de Milano, the Russian state Orchestra, the Orchestre National de Lyon, the Orchestre National de Lille, the Cannes chamber orchestra, the Berkeley symphony, the Montréal youth orchestra.
Professor Emeritus at the Paris Conservatoire, where he taught for 25 years, Michel Béroff is giving regular master classes in many countries, including Japan, China, USA, Italy, Germany and France.
Exclusive EMI artist for over 25 years, Michel Beroff has published more than 50 recordings ; among them the complete works for piano and orchestra from Liszt, Prokofieff and Stravinsky , conducted by Seiji Ozawa and Kurt Masur. For Deutsche Grammophon, he has recorded Ravel’s left hand concerto with the LSO and Claudio Abbado. His latest recordings include the complete piano music from Debussy. Michel Beroff has been awarded five times the “Grand Prix du Disque”.
As a publisher, he participated for Wiener Urtext , to a new edition of Debussy’s piano music. For the japanese network NHK, he realized, in 2006, a serie of fifteen master-classes on french music.
As a jury member, he has been serving in many important piano competitions, including Tchaikovsky, Van Cliburn, Leeds, Clara Haskil, Rubinstein, and Marguerite Long competitions, among others. Many of his students have won top prizes at international competitions ; the latest one is SeongJin CHO, who won the Chopin competition in Warsaw.
Claude Debussy was born in 1862, and is considered the originator and foremost representative of musical impressionism. He was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 10 and never stopped pursuing music, first as a pianist and then as a composer. The parallel fifths, the cancellation of sensitive notes, tonal ambiguity, modal scales, and extended chords, among other things, are elements masterfully used by Debussy and serve to make his music true masterpieces recognized throughout the world. Debussy is one of the most important composers in history, and his influence exceeds even the limits of "classical music.”
In 1880, he began to compose music for the piano and give piano lessons. Later, he enrolled in Ernest Guiraud’s composition class, where he also began working as an accompanist in Victorine Moreau-Sainti’s singing classes. During this period in his life, Debussy struggled financially, but he began to cultivate his life. He explored other types of music and art forms, such as attending a Javanese gamelan performance at the Universal Exposition of 1889, discovering Mussorgsky, and befriending fellow musician and composer Ernest Chausson. Debussy’s career as a composer is closely linked to his relationship with Symbolist and Parnassian poets: Stéphane Mallarmé being an essential figure. These influences, together with the renewal of Impressionist painting, were aspects that pushed him towards the search for an original and personal artistic path. “I've had enough of music, of the same everlasting landscape; I want to see a Manet and hear some Offenbach,” he wrote while in Rome.
In a sad turn of events, Debussy was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and was operated on in 1915. He was never able to recover the fullness of his strength. He finished his Violin Sonata in March 1917, and three other sonatas remained unrealized. His last concert appearance was at Saint-Jean-de-Luz in September 1917, where he played the Violin Sonata with Gaston Poulet. He died in Paris six months later.
At the Conservatoire, he acquired classical knowledge: the likes of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schuman, Handel, and Liszt. Later on, he would recognize the artistic mastery of the Group of Five, which was made up of contemporary Russian composers (he acquired his taste for ancient and oriental modes from the Russians); the Japanese gamelan, and Chopin's music. Inspired by international art and culture, Claude Debussy’s music are masterpieces celebrated all around the world.
Photo credit: BNF Gallica