Claire de Lune

You probably have heard this…

This is the most famous piano piece by Debussy, and this recording is by the composer. It was made in 1913 on a special kind of player piano, and that enabled recording engineers to use the roll to get close to what he played. I present it here for comparison.

To find the best contemporary pianists playing Clair de Lune, you have to find Suite Bergamasque, because this piece is just one of the selections in the whole suite.

Clair de Lune means literally “light of the moon”, and so “moonlight”. This was Debussy’s name, in contrast to “the Moonlight Sonata”, which was a name Beethoven never used.

A more modern recording…

For only Claire de Lune by modern pianists you have fewer choices. Here is one:

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8 thoughts on “Claire de Lune

  1. This is one of those that I’ve heard forever. I think he’s on the water, or near the water. That’s the impression from all the fast bits. Reflected moonlight on a lake or something. I prefer Debussy’s playing. Amazing that we can hear it. We don’t have to wonder.

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    1. Louie, just do a YouTube search for both Suite Bergamasque and Claire de Lune. Of course Claire de Lune is part of the suite. You will be surprised both at how many versions there are but also by how the same names come up again and again. I have already spoken about my problem with Debussy’s playing in this piece. It’s very interesting, but other things he played, using the same system, are spectacular.

      So there is a huge problem. When something is this popular, it’s amazingly hard to find one person who sort of owns the piece. In my view no one I’ve heard blows everyone else away.

      Another piece with the same problem is Für Elise, and until sometime recently I had never heard it played by anyone who blew me away. The problem is that because it’s something that students like to play – I teach it to everyone – the idea is that it is beneath the dignity of the best players on the planet.

      But there is one guy who nails it for me, the same guy (Pogorlich) who did that very unusual recording of Moment Musical in Eb Minor by Rachmaninov. I’m about to add that right now in another post.

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  2. It’s wonderful being able to hear Debussy play his own music. The second version was enjoyable but played at a slower tempo. I prefer Debussy’s.

    Some people say, “Wake up and smell the roses”. I enjoy waking up and listening to music. This music is relaxing and puts me in a good mood.

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    1. The problem is that Claire de Lune is considered a “cliche”, and for that reason it is hard to find a really convincing performance as a stand alone. It is part of a suite, and by listening to the whole suite you will find something better.

      The problem with Debussy’s recording is that he probably did not take this music seriously. It became the most popular thing he wrote for piano, and composers get discouraged when important music they write that they consider great is largely ignored because it is too sophisticated or challenging for the average listener.

      Case in point: I presented Rachmaninonov’s Moment Musical in Eb Minor, and that was something he remained extremely proud of his whole life. Yet most people don’t like it, or understand it. In contrast, his very famous Prelude in C# Minor, which I also presented here, was wildly popular his whole life, and he came to hate it. When famous composers are more or less forced to record things that they are tired of, they do not make their most serious efforts.

      This is why, for instance, that it is all but impossible to find a serious and totally convincing recording of Für Elise. Most famous players consider it beneath their dignity to play, and they do a very poor job.

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  3. My immediate impression is that besides a difference in speed, Debussy’s own playing has more life and rhythm, almost dance-like – alive. Very interesting!

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    1. But it’s also a bit sloppy, not true of other things he recorded that he took more seriously. I have not found a great recording yet. It is very difficult to find a performance that is serious because it is known as a cliche.

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