Five essential works by Debussy

We choose the best pieces by the modern face of French opera, Debussy

Debussy famous works
Published: March 3, 2019 at 10:00 am

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune

This seductive and sultry orchestral masterpiece quietly wrought a revolution more profound than Wagner’s Tristan.

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Recommended recording:
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
Philips 438 7422 (2 discs)

Nocturnes

Three contrasting orchestral tone poems – by turns languid, lively and seductive – which impressed not only Ravel but also composers outside France.

Recommended recording:
LSO/André Previn
EMI 391 9672

La mer

A vivid portrait of the sea in all its moods, La mer is the nearest that Debussy came to writing a symphony, with a lively scherzo (‘Play of the waves’) and a rousing finale.

Recommended recording:
Singapore SO/Lan Shui
BIS-SACD 1447

Preludes Books 1 & 2

On one level a series of miniature tableaux – ranging from landscapes and atmospheres to thumbnail sketches of literary characters – these piano piece also provide a superb overview of Debussy’s range as a composer.

Recommended recording:
Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Decca 452 0222 (2 discs)

Pelléas et Mélisande

Debussy’s understated, almost dream-like opera about young lovers caught up in an extra-marital affair exerts an extraordinary and unforgettable spell on its listeners.

Recommended recording:
Vienna State Opera/Claudio Abbado
DG 435 3442 (2 discs)

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Authors

Freya ParrDigital Editor and Staff Writer, BBC Music Magazine

Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.

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