Pour le piano, 3rd movement
In this session, Professor Jean-François Heissler and student Louna Crissovelonis take on the Pour le piano suite, 3rd movement (Toccata) by French composer Claude Debussy. The piece is joyous and lively and marks Debussy’s first mature oeuvres.
The pair work on Crissovelonis’ specific interpretation, fingering techniques to play lightly, pedalling (in the same way it was done in the era of Bach himself), understanding the nuances of the oeuvre, and maintaining an upbeat tempo from start to finish.
Avoid playing heavily on the keyboard.
Fingering and pedal work (in the Baroque era).
Sustaining a lively tempo.
Respecting the joyous and cheerful intention of the toccata.
Understanding nuances in this piece.
This first mature piece by French composer Claude Debussy was written and published in 1901 and features three individual movements: the prélude, the sarabande and the toccata. It premiered in Paris in 1902 and was played by pianist Ricardo Vines. The suite was a turning point in Debussy’s career, and he began to be very prolific in music-writing after that. The third movement, the toccata, is a lively, poised, and elegant piece where clarity is the goal, not speed. It is not easy to master because it must be played lightly, and the interpreter must keep up with the tempo and respect the many nuances that Debussy wrote.
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 Jean-François Heisser’s feedback and comments.
1973: 1st Prize in piano, counterpoint, harmony, fugue, accompaniment and chamber music.
Jean-François Heisser is a well-rounded artist, leading a versatile career as a pianist, conductor and teacher. Born in Saint-Étienne, France, he is the disciple and heir of Vlado Perlemuter, Henriette Puig-Roget and Maria Curcio.
From 1991 to 2016, he was a professor at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique. Among his talented students are Bertrand Chamayou and Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, with whom he has developed a relationship of close musical complicity. Presently, he balances his career between being a Musical Director for the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Chamber Orchestra (since 2001), a guest conductor, as a solo artist, and as an Artistic Director of various institutions and major musical productions.
As a soloist, he has played under the baton of renowned conductors such as Janowski, Tilson Thomas, Segerstam, Krivine, Mehta, Plasson, Roth etc., with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, the Bayerischer Rundfunk, the Orchestre National de France or Les Siècles, and more. He frequently performs in recitals, with a preference for Beethoven (Sonatas, Diabelli Variations etc.), Brahms, Chopin, the Spanish repertoire (Albéniz, de Falla, Granados, Mompou), as well as the works of great French composers of the past and present.
As a chamber musician, Jean-François Heisser has covered the entire repertoire with musical partners such as the Ysaye, Lindsay, and Pražák Quartets, and his recording of the Bartok sonatas with Peter Csaba (on Praga) is now regarded as an essential work. As a Musical Director, Heisser has been in charge of developing the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Chamber Orchestra project since 2001, firmly establishing the orchestra as one of the finest French chamber ensembles, as reflected in its recordings on the Mirare label.
Moreover, his extensive discography boasts over 40 recordings: after his highly acclaimed recording of the piano works of Paul Dukas (awarded the Diapason d’or de l’année prize), he embarked on a collaboration with Erato Records (a 6-CD boxed set dedicated to the Spanish repertoire of Schumann, Brahms, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, etc.), then with Naïve Records (Beethoven, Brahms) and Praga Records (Weber, Berg, Manoury, Bartok…). More recently, recordings of Marie-Josèphe Jude with Heisser’s transcription for 2 pianos of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique (Harmonia Mundi) have been released.
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