Claude-Achille Debussy (1862 – 1918) was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions In France, he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1903. A crucial figure in the transition to the modern era in Western music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers.
One third of the art songs Debussy composed were settings of the poems of Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). The poet’s influence on the composer was immense. A description of the poet’s style, one favoring insinuation over declaration, might even be applied to Debussy’s music. An accumulation of fleeting subtleties is more to the point than a grander revealed structure.
The first movements of Debussy’s Petite Suite of 1889 are drawn from two poems of Verlaine’s 1869 volume Fêtes galantes. The poems evoke the era of 18th-century aristocrats on country outings, the world depicted in the fanciful paintings of Fragonard and Watteau. Partiers assume the archetypal Commedia dell'Arte roles – there are countesses and rogues, priests and knights, all engaged in an atmosphere of frivolity.
In En bateau (Sailing), revelers 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.
But Verlaine’s poem has a wrinkle. There is a desire for romance, but no consummation. In fact, the poem ends with a wistfulness, despite a happy tone – promise unfulfilled.
Although this 1st movement from the Petite Suite was originally composed for orchestra (and later Piano by Jaques Durand), I created this arrangement for Concert (Pedal) Harp and it is best played using the "GeneralUser GS.sf2" Soundfont by S. Christian Collins Software (http://www.schristiancollins.com/generaluser.php).