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ISSUE 120 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 4/27/2007

24 pianists, 24 preludes

By Tom Niemisto
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 27, 2007

On April 17, the music department piano division presented a multimedia experience of French Impressionism. The event, titled “Debussy Night, with corresponding visual artwork and narrative commentary,” featured 24 students from six piano studios performing the entire 24 piano preludes of French composer Claude Debussy.

This was the second in a series of such events; the “Debussy Night” was hosted in a concert series on Saturday in Owatonna. As program coordinator Assistant Professor of Piano Christopher Atzinger reminded the audience, it is rare to hear these difficult works performed in their entirety, and a very significant accomplishment to have them performed at such a high level from undergraduate artists.

He noted that it was a privilege to be part of such dedication to music and art heard on Tuesday night, and it should remind us of “the preciousness of life.”

Debussy'’s piano preludes are considered masterworks of the Impressionist movement because of their ability to musically express innovative ideas about the effects of light and colors.

In order to create a synthetic experience, the program also featured narrative introductions and projections of Impressionist paintings and photographs to accompany the music. The images that accompanied each piece were merely pictorial suggestions meant to enhance the mental visualizations of the listener. The musical movements had descriptive titles, such as “"Dead Leaves,”" “"Sounds and Fragrances Through the Evening Air”" and "“The Engulfed Cathedral,”" that evoked dreamlike visualizations which matched the projections of paintings by French masters such as Monet, van Gogh, Renoir and Gauguin.

To introduce each work and set the tone, Impressionist poetry of Melisaunde, Baudelaire and de Lisle was recited in French by native speaker Guillaume Carmes. The blurring of musical colors and phrases seemed to mimic the smearing of paint seen on the screen. It was as if you could “hear” a painting or “see” music. The result was a realization of artistic concepts and ideas that transcend the music and paintings that influenced Debussy.

The piano students represented all four years at St. Olaf and several majors. As the night progressed, the event became less centered on the students’ stellar performances and more on Debussy himself, and the ideas and experiences that influenced his music.

This event was the first such event the music department has hosted; with such a warm reception, it may be known as the first annual “Debussy Night.”

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