Debussy – Suite Bergamasque
Debussy attended the Paris Conservatoire where he was awarded various prizes – though not for harmony! He then studied composition with Ernest Guiraud and travelled through Europe. He also gained second and first prizes in the Prix de Rome in 1883-4 and stayed at the Villa Medici for two years. Shortly after his return to Paris in 1888 he began his Suite Bergamasque.
A Bergamask is a rustic dance whose movements are representative of the natives of Bergamo. The archetype is an ungainly peasant who speaks in an unintelligible dialect! Thankfully, the music belies this. The character of Harlequin, from the commedia dell’arte and who graces the cover opposite, is derived from the Bergamasco.
Girolamo Frescobaldi, active in the seventeenth century, included bergamasche in his suites, and it is upon the baroque suite that the Suite Bergamasque, with its Prelude and dance movements, is loosely modelled. Clair de Lune takes the place of the slow dance, which was usually a saraband. It is here, too, that Debussy’s interest in symbolist poetry is shown. In Verlaine’s Fêtes Galantes, known by Debussy, there are (characteristic) references to moonlight and also to bergamasques.
Suite Bergamasque is one of several works by Debussy that Peter Lynch has arranged for flute and piano. Those for other publishers include Deux Arabesques; Danse Bohémienne & La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin (Lengnick); The Little Shepherd, Rêverie and Pour invoquer Pan, Dieu du Vent d’Été (PEM), this latter being on the current ABRSM Grade VI syllabus.