Tombeau de Debussy

As part of the city’s Debussy Festival, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group presented a series of events focussed on Debussy and his legacy. For ‘Debussy’s Heirs’ (in December 2017) I joined Stephan Meier, Julian Anderson and Paul Griffiths at the CBSO Centre for an event looking at how Debussy’s music influenced composers up to the present day:

In ‘Tombeau de Debussy’ (March 2018, 100 years after Debussy’s death), I joined soprano Ruby Hughes, violinist Alexandra Wood and cellist Ulrich Heinen at Symphony Hall, for a programme of pieces from the 1920 publication, Tombeau de Debussy (a set of Debussy ‘homage’ pieces assembled in 1920), and brand new tributes to Debussy. From the original book we took solo piano works by Dukas, Bartók and Goossens, a short song by Satie, and Ravel’s duo for violin and cello. The new works were commissioned by BCMG from Jun-eun Park, Sinta Wullur, Frédéric Pattar and Julian Anderson.

Of the concert, Andrew Clements wrote for the Guardian:

“Among the pieces from the original Tombeau, Richard Uttley’s rapt performance of Paul Dukas’s La Plainte, au (Loin du Faune (a piano elegy haunted by the Prélude à l’Après-Midi) and soprano Ruby Hughes’s account of Erik Satie’s jewel-like souvenir of his friendship with Debussy stood out.

Most striking of all was Alexandra Wood and Ulrich Heinen’s performance of the Ravel sonata movement, not only signalling a new direction for Ravel but in this context suggesting a way Debussy’s music might have gone had he lived longer.”

Richard Whitehouse on

“The mid-afternoon ‘Tombeau de Debussy’ juxtaposed pieces from the supplement published by La Revue musicale in 1920 with commissions under BCMG’s Sound Investment Scheme. Jungeun Park’s Tombeau de Claude Debussy found violinist Alexandra Wood, cellist Ulrich Heinen and pianist Richard Uttley evoking the composer’s death in darkly ironic terms, then the oblique tonality of Dukas’s La plainte, au loin, du faune … seemed as much a memorial to the creative impasse as to its passing. Highly sensitive here, Uttley was no less probing in the moody ‘Sostenuto rubato’ that Bartók incorporated into his Eight Improvisations; soprano Ruby Hughes joining him for the whimsical profundity of Satie’s setting of Lamartine in En souvenir. Sinta Wallur’s Tagore Fireflies sets three brief verses by the Indian poet in music whose ornamented vocal was complemented by the piano’s gamelan-like patterning. Wood and Heinen found requisite plangency in the first movement of Ravel’s Duo; then cellist and soprano took on engaging theatricality for Frédéric Pattar’s setting of Maeterlinck in (… de qui parlez-vous?). Uttley captured the bluesy elegance of Goossens’s Pièce, before Julian Anderson’s Tombeau united the musicians in a setting of Mallarmé’s tribute to Edgar Allen Poe whose chiselled vocal writing and guitar-like sonorities made for a provocative ending.”