Debussy/Louÿs Chansons de Bilitis (Claude Debussy/Pierre Louÿs), 2017
Louÿs and Debussy met in 1893 and became close friends. Debussy worked with Louÿs’ Bilitis poems three times. The first a set of three songs unrelated to the present music, second the piece we performed and third a reworking of about half this music for piano duet.
In 1894 Louÿs published just over 140 poems which he claimed to have translated from a 6th century BC Greek poet, Bilitis. The poems come from three stages in her life and are headed Bucolics in Pamphylia (childhood and sensual awakening), Elegies at Mytilene (passionate love and the desolation of loss) and Epigrams in the Isle of Cyprus (life as a courtesan in the cult of Aphrodite). The whole edifice was a hoax which, though suspected by some from the beginning, fooled enough of the people enough of the time to become extremely popular.
Louÿs asked Debussy to provide music for a mise en scène in 1901 of twelve of the poems. Time was short but the composer responded with music of sensual grace, sometimes lasting no more than a breath. There was one performance, from which survives an intriguing skeleton. The music is there, though the celeste part – played by Debussy – is lost and is reconstructed here.
Performed by Elise Aru and the UEA Symphony Orchestra
Directed by Ralph Yarrow and Claudine Tourniaire
Conductor - Stuart Dunlop