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Although Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque comprises four movements, the third, Clair de lune, has become by far the most well known.
The great French impressionist, Debussy, started to compose this famous piano suite, Suite Bergamasque, in 1890 at the age of 28, as he struggled to make ends meet in what was considered to be his more Bohemian period. He finally finished writing it a whopping 15 years later... but it's a good job he revised it so heavily before it was published, as it contains some of the most famous piano music written by the composer.
It was within the inspirational poem 'Clair de Lune' by Debussy’s friend, Paul Verlaine, that the composer found the seeds of the complete work’s title. Verlaine writes of 'your souls ... like landscapes, charming masks and bergamasks, playing the lute and dancing, almost sad in their fantastic disguises'. The bergamask, reputedly a clumsy dance performed originally by natives of Bergamo, becomes the beautiful 'bergamasque' in French.
In the 15 years between the work's conception and its publication, some confusion remains over what was composed originally in 1890 and what in 1905. In those intervening years, the movement 'Pavane' had been retitled 'Passepied', and the 'Promenade Sentimentale' became the famous 'Clair de lune'. Now the work consists of four movements: a lively contrasting 'Prélude', a playful comedic 'Menuet', the gorgeous 'Clair de lune' and the staccato 'Passepied'.
Not an easy piece to play well, this work allows the most accomplished pianists to shine.