Programme Notes – Serenad…

For oboe, horn and harpsichord

A tribute to Debussy in the year of the centenary of his death

The idea of this instrumental combination is strange enough, but for Debussy to be contemplating combining using a harpsichord with an oboe and a horn seems downright bizarre to me. I felt I should go to the great man for initial thoughts and had a look through some of my favourites amongst his piano preludes.  This was not going to be a piece inspired by girls with flaxen hair or submerged cathedrals; then I chanced upon No. 9 in book 1: …La serenade interrompue. This is a most captivating piece in Debussy’s more ‘Spanish’ idiom and the opening ‘picked’ motif quasi guitarra with its obsessive semitone gave me the impetus I needed.

I like writing pieces about relationships, in this case between the oboe and the horn with the harpsichord acting as mediator (and guitar.) At the risk of political incorrectness, I hear the horn as the boy and the oboe as the girl. When one instrument becomes too forward the other shies away (just like in real life), and there are places when all three players resort to semitonal noodling as a way of passing the time whilst thinking what to do next. Towards the end of the piece something approaching a more lyrical aria is played by the horn and the oboe together before an abrupt close. The chord that the harpsichord finally settles on is taken from another Debussy prelude: no. 5 in book 1: …Les collines d’Anacapri.