Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Minor, CD 148, 1st and 2nd movement
Gérard Poulet and Emily Turkanik work on the minutiae in this masterclass for the violin. Rather impressed by Turkanik's performance, Poulet gives a few pointers regarding the color and character of the work. They also briefly discuss choosing the correct fingering, playing rhythmically, and the tempo -- in particular at the end of the second movement. He reminds his student to respect what was originally written by Debussy, for example, Debussy writes "en serrant" (tightening) of the tempo right after a small accelerando. With these tips in mind, the student can perfect her near-perfect interpretation.
Additionally, Poulet provides some context of the piece and a personal anecdote related to his father's relationship with Debussy. According to Poulet, the pair wrote this piece together while Debussy was very ill and reaching the end of his life.
Context of the work.
Adding the right color.
Respecting the Debussy's written instructions.
Maintaining the correct tempo.
Playing in rhythm.
The Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor was composed as part of Debussy’s plan to premiere six sonatas for different instruments. The plan never came to fruition, as Debussy died less than one year after the 1917 premiere of the violin sonata, which was the third work in the set. It was both his final composition and final public performance. Despite the depression that came with his fight against cancer and the World War, Debussy was very proud of this composition. The work is very short, only about thirteen minutes. The first movement, Allegro vivo, vacillates between simple melodies and more lively, rhythmic passage work that evokes the music of Spain. The second movement, Intermède: Fantasque et léger, uses staccato material juxtaposed with lyrical themes to create an atmosphere that is somewhat scherzo-like but also takes on the role of a slow movement. The last movement, Finale: Très animé, is dance-like and gracious, ending surprisingly cheerfully for a composer who was in so much pain.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this violin masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Gérard Poulet’s feedback and comments.
At the age of 18, he won the 1st Grand Prix of the Paganini Competition in Genoa.
Gérard Poulet began as a child prodigy. His father, violinist and conductor Gaston Poulet had the privilege of premiering Debussy’s Sonata in 1917, with the author at the piano. Gérard entered the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Paris at the age of eleven, and graduated two years after being awarded First Prize, unanimously. At age eighteen, he won the First Prize at the Paganini Competition in Genoa.
He performs worldwide today with the finest orchestras, and in the most prestigious musical seasons, including that of Radio France and the Musée d’Orsay. No less than an eminent concert player, he is one of the greatest pedagogues of our time. Since April 2005, Gérard Poulet has been an invited professor at Tokyo's National University of Fine Arts and Music, after teaching for many years at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, as well as at the Conservatoire National de Région de Paris, and the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. Presently, he is professor at the Showa University of Music in Japan since 2010.
In addition to giving masterclasses all over the world, he is also a member of many juries of major international competitions.
He was awarded with the Officier des Arts et Lettres in 1995 and Commandeur in 2019, as well as the Officier de l’Ordre National du Mérite in 1999.
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