Claude Debussy: Suite Bergamasque

I. Prélude
II. Menuet
III. Claire de Lune
IV. Passepied

The term “bergamasque” refers to the ancient city of Bergame, located forty kilometres east of Milan. The character of its citizens (“rustic and clumsy”) was personified by a series of dances and the Italian comic character Harlequin (1572). This comic character is evident particularly in the Menuet and Passepied. In Fêtes galante, which Debussy was familiar with, Paul Verlaine refers to the bergamasque dances in the poem “Claire de lune”:

Your soul is a select landscape
Where charming masqueraders and bergamaskers go
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fantastic disguises.
All sing in a minor key
Of victorious love and the opportune life,
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight,
With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
That sets the birds dreaming in the trees
And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy,
The tall slender fountains among marble statues.

© Greg Smith, 2009