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Petite Suite

En Bateau

by Claude Debussy

Petite Suite: En Bateau by Claude Debussy

1685 – 1759

One third of the art songs Debussy composed were settings of the poems of Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). 

The first movements of the Petite suite are drawn from two poems of Verlaine’s 1869 volume Fêtes galantes. The poems evoke the era of 18th-century aristocrats on country outings. There are countesses and rogues, priests and knights, all engaged in an atmosphere of frivolity. I chose this Monet painting as we are in the Impressionist period of music and art and this gives a clear image of washes of colour and free brushwork which is a characteristic of the period both musically and art wise.

In En bateau (In or on the Boat) also referred to as (sailing) party goers in a boat have their minds on romantic trysts as they sail at dusk on a dark lake. Debussy’s music captures perfectly a mood of water-borne serenity and languor, opening with a kind of musical sigh that made the Petite Suite immediately popular with a wide audience. The opening I practised on low B fingering blown up to second register B ,99% of the time. Fingerings that have an open tube are really difficult to nail tone and intonation wise and get control of the colour and I find the best way is harmonics . If they are spot on the rest just follows.
Here is the poem .It ends with a wistfulness, despite a happy tone – promise unfulfilled.
Meanwhile comes the moon and beams
as the sailboat gaily skims
briefly over waves of dreams.
Meanwhile, up comes the moon; the bark
Gaily sails round the little park
Over the water, dreaming, dark.
Moon emerging;
Small boat on short journey,
Glide on water, dreaming.

En Bateau is from a Petite Suite by Claude Debussy for four hands. It has been transcribed many times and the most notable version is the orchestral version by Henri Busser.

The suite, which was composed from 1886 to 1889, was first performed February 1889 by Debussy and pianist-publisher J.Durand. It comprises of 4 movements:

1. En bateau (Sailing): Andantino
2. Cortège (Retinue): Moderato
3. Menuet: Moderato
4. Ballet: Allegro giusto