Children’s Corner

Debussy composed Children’s Corner between 1906 and 1908 and dedicated his suite to his young daughter, Claude-Emma (known as “Chou-Chou”), who was at the time of composition between the age of one and three. His dedication reads:

“A ma chère petite Chouchou, avec les tendres excuses de son Père pour ce qui va suivre. C. D.” (To my dear little Chouchou, with tender apologies from her father for what follows.)

  1. Download or play Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum: This is Debussy’s very humorous allusion to “Gradus Ad Parnassum” by Muzio Clementi, a set of pieces that were usually considered tedious to play and to listen to. In contrast, Debussy’s composition is playful and joyous.
  2. Download or play Jimbo: This is about Jumbo, who came from the French Sudan and lived briefly in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris around the time of Debussy’s birth. It was misspelled as “Jimbo”, and possibly as a result of confusion between the French pronunciation of“u” and “i”. I think Debussy had in mind a smaller elephant, more the size of his daughter.
  3. Download or play Serenade of the Doll: Supposedly this is a porcelain doll, but my conception is of a doll that comes to life and who dances with great expression.
  4. Download or play The Snow Is Dancing: Some people may think also of another famous piece of music by Debussy, Des pas sur la neige (Footprints in the Snow), a short prelude by the same composer. Everything is muted and indistinct one minute, precise and crystalline the next.
  5. Download or play The Little Shepherd: this is simply a small boy with his flute
  6. Download or play Golliwogs Cakewalk: This gives us a window in time to examine what popular music was more than 100 years ago. The cakewalk was a dance, and the dancer with the fanciest steps won a cake. This is one source of our modern idiom “to take the cake”, meaning to win or to beat everyone else. Basically this is a ragtime with jaunty rhythms and banjo-like effects. There is even a humorous allusion to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Of great interest to me is that Debussy’s view of “pop music” is very dated, obviously “old”, reflecting a very different time, but in his more serious music his chord structure and musical ideas remain amazingly modern to this very moment, often reflecting the same sounds and structures as rather modern jazz.

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