Thursday, August 18, 2005
The little piano prelude Des pas sur la neige is lean and wide-eyed, all line and simplicity, and not really about footsteps at all. It is evocative, yes, but not representative. Unlike the more well-known La Cathedrale engloutie, where stacked, open-voiced harmonies mark time regularly... slowly... with a pacing reminiscent of a grand old passacaglia, Footsteps in the Snow surveys the scene from a place of stillness. Here is an open landscape and a distant line of horizon punctuated by a few halting steps. The music holds taught in a peculiar way: the voices (from three to four) are as clear and distinct as in baroque counterpoint, but in Debussy they do not converse. The texture approaches intricacy but remains simple. Fundamentally simple. A tediously notated motive. A melodic voice. A bass line resigned to ascending and descending stepwise motion. I prefer this Debussy, the one who lays bare the bones of composition and refuses (except in bars 29-31, where he just couldn't help himself) to flesh it out. Debussy, clear and simple.