"Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" - Symphonic Prelude, L. 86

Inspired by the symbolism and poetry of Mallarmé, Verlaine and Rimbaud, the impressionist painting of Turner and Monet, and the orchestral imagination of Mussorgsky, CLAUDE DEBUSSY created a unique soundscape. One of its symbols in musical impressionism is the symphonic Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, written in 1894. The music captivated the entire artistic elite and brought it to general acclaim. The Prelude was a first triumph for the 32-year-old composer and the beginning of his popularity. Debussy wrote the work under the impression of L’après-midi d’un faune, a poem in the antic-bucolic genre by another outstanding representative of poetic impressionism, Stéphane Mallarmé.  Describing his work as “a free illustration of Mallarmé’s wonderful poem”, the composer explained his ideas: The prelude does not at all pretend to be a synthesis of the poem. It is rather a series of pictures in which the Faun’s desires and dreams flow in the afternoon heat. Then, tired of chasing after skittishly scurrying nymphs,  wearily abandons himself to a sleep filled with visions of finally accomplished dreams of the fullness of possession in all-encompassing nature.

Among the first people to listen to the work in its 1893 piano version was Mallarmé. He gave a flattering assessment, which Debussy would not forget for a long time: I did not expect such a thing! This music extends the emotion of my poem and embellishes it more passionately than colour could achieve.

The work is in three movements – prelude, intermezzo and final paraphrase. Debussy selects the appropriate musical colour – extended instrumentation (three large flutes), English horn, specific instrumental range and touches, performance techniques.

The premiere took place after a long and difficult rehearsal period on December 22nd, 1894 under the baton of Gustave Doré.

In 1912 Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed the ballet of the same name with music by Debussy and with costumes and sets by painter Léon Bakst. The piece also exists in the orchestration of Arnold Schoenberg.

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