Professor Sharon Kam demonstrates how to produce the different sounds and colors necessary when performing Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie. She encourages student Jules Baeten to experiment more in all elements of the piece, including tempo, pacing, sound quality and color, and dynamics. Kam helps Baeten discover more color in his sound, even in very quiet dynamics, maintain an evenness of sound between the registers, and achieve a more connected legato and rounder staccatos. Furthermore, she helps him find a fitting quality of sound in the opening that captures the dreamlike reverie expressed by the music. The professor points out the importance of controlling the breath so that it is incorporated into the music, rather than interrupting it. Overall, she challenges the performer to take risks and create contrast to reach the maximum amount of expression.
Creating a dreamier atmosphere in the opening.
Having more freedom with time.
Producing both an effective staccato and legato.
Varying the sound, color, and character between the different sections.
Breathing quietly in a way that does not disturb the phrase.
In 1909, Gabriel Fauré appointed Debussy to the board of directors at the Paris Conservatoire. One of his first tasks was to compose two pieces for the clarinet examinations, which became the only two pieces Debussy wrote for the instrument. Première Rhapsodie, the more substantial of the two, was composed between 1909-10 for clarinet and piano, though in 1911 he wrote an orchestral accompaniment. The piece was dedicated to the clarinet professor at the conservatory, Prospère Mimart. Today, it is one of the most frequently performed pieces in the clarinet repertoire. It is written in free form with no movement, moving through several moods, tempi, and characters. It begins with a dreamlike reverie in the solo clarinet over atmospheric strings, and alternates between technical and melodic passages. The piece offers the performer many opportunities to demonstrate both emotional and technical prowess through its nuanced lyricism, chromatic flourishes, varied articulation, and rhythmic complexity.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this clarinet masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Sharon Kam’s feedback and comments.
Won the 1992 ARD Music Competition in Munich.
Sharon Kam is one of the world’s leading clarinet soloists, and has been working with renowned orchestras in the United States, Europe, and Japan for over 20 years. At the age of sixteen, she performed Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in her orchestral debut with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta. Shortly afterwards, she performed the Clarinet Quintet with the Guarneri String Quartet in Carnegie Hall, New York.
As a passionate chamber musician, Sharon Kam regularly works with artists such as Lars Vogt, Christian Tetzlaff, Enrico Pace, Daniel Müller-Schott, Leif Ove Andsnes, Carolin Widmann, and the Jerusalem Quartet. She is a frequent guest at festivals in Schleswig-Holstein, Heimbach, Rheingau, Risør, Cork, Verbier, and Delft, as well as the Schubertiade festival. An active performer of contemporary music, she has premiered many works, including Krzysztof Penderecki’s Concerto and Quartet, and concertos by Herbert Willi (at the Salzburg Festival), Iván Erőd and Peter Ruzicka (at Donaueschingen).
Sharon Kam feels at home in a variety of musical genres – from classical to modern music and jazz. This is reflected in her diverse discography. She received the ECHO “Instrumentalist of the Year” award two times: in 1998, for her Weber recording with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig and Kurt Masur, and in 2006, for her CD with the Leipzig Radio Orchestra featuring works by Spohr, Weber, Rossini, and Mendelssohn. Her American Classics CD with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by her husband Gregor Bühl, was awarded the Deutsche Schallplattenkritik Prize. In 2013, she released a recording entitled Opera! This collaboration with the Württembergisches Kammerorchester, conducted by Ruben Gazarian, includes transcriptions of operatic arias ranging from Rossini and Puccini to Wolf-Ferrari, arranged for clarinet and chamber orchestra. The release was accompanied by an inaugural tour.
During the season 2019-2020, Sharon Kam performed in concert halls including the Wiener Musikverein; a portrait concert at the Elbphiharmonie, the Vienna and Munich Chamber Orchestras, the Staatskapelle Halle, the Saarländischen Staatsorchester, the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Szczecin Philharmonic Orchestra. In September 2019, her Trio album recorded with her long-term partners Ori Kam and Matan Porat, was 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