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Three Pieces from "Children's Corner"

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Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy (orch. Graham Sheen)


General Info

Year: 1908 / 1988
Duration:
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Piano
Publisher: Kalmus, through Keiser Southern Music
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - $75.00


Movements

1. The Little Shepherd - 2:105
2. Jimbo's Lullaby - 3:25
3. Golliwog's Cakewalk


Instrumentation

Full Score
Flute
Oboe
English Horn
Bassoon
Contrabassoon
B-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Bass Clarinet
Horn in F I-II


Errata

None discovered thus far.


Program Notes

Composed in 1908, Debussy wrote “The Children’s Corner” as a six-movement piano suite dedicated to his daughter, Claude-Emma. Captivated by his daughter’s wonderment and fascination with various toys and dolls in her playroom, Debussy aimed to emulate both the experience of being young and the nostalgia of watching his daughter explore and play. Each movement was titled, in English, after one of Emma’s toys.

This version by British bassoonist, teacher, and arranger Graham Sheen (b. 1952), is orchestrated for wind nonet and includes bass clarinet and contrabassoon, giving the ensemble different timbral and color possibilities.

Upon publication, Debussy wrote to his daughter: “To my dear little Chou-Chou, with her father’s tender apologies for what is to follow.” Though a seemingly tender message, it foreshadows dark times to come: Emma Debussy would die of diphtheria in 1919 at 14 years old, just one year after her father.

The first movement, The Little Shepherd, uses three solos to create a landscape far different from the streets of Paris that Emma was used to seeing. The movement opens with a flute solo, then layers muted horn and then each voice to reach a cadence in the tonic key of A major. The second section begins like the first, with the solo voice this time being the English horn. The music once again builds to a cadence point, this time landing on the dominant E major. A final solo in the oboe leads to a final cadence in the tonic key.

The second movement, Jimbo’s Lullaby, was inspired by Emma’s stuffed elephant who needed a bedtime story before going to sleep. Debussy re-imagines the elephant’s gradual descent into slumber through rising and falling melodic and rhythmic figures. This movement opens with and features prominent soloistic lines from the contrabassoon and is marked musically to be played “as clumsy and awkwardly as possible.” It is argued that the elephant’s name was actually Jumbo, and that title is simply a mistranslation on Debussy’s part.

The final movement is titled Golliwog’s Cakewalk. This movement depicts the choppy movements of a raggedy doll-like character named Golliwog. Created by American cartoonist and author Florence Kate Upton as a character in children’s books in the late 19th century, this doll is characterized by having black skin, white-rimmed eyes, red lips, and frizzy hair. The term “cakewalk” refers to pre-Civil War dances performed by slaves on plantation grounds. The most elaborate or impressive dance was rewarded with an elaborately decorated cake. We hear terms such as “takes the cake” or “piece of cake” commonly used which may have come from the idea that something accomplished with ease is a “cakewalk.”

We [Appalachian State University Wind Ensemble] as an ensemble discussed the doll depicted in this movement. We also explored the context in which the music was written in relation to the context in which we view racial inequality today. We ultimately made the decision together to not perform it for you tonight as we felt that it would not be appropriate out of deference to our students of color.

- Program Note from Appalachian State University Wind Ensemble concert program, 26 March 2021


Commercial Discography

None discovered thus far.


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


Performances

To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Appalachian State University (Boone, N.C.) Wind Ensemble (Christopher Tkacik, conductor) - 19 April 2021


Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music


All Wind Works


Resources

  • Children's Corner, Wikipedia. Acce3ssed 26 March 2021
  • Debussy, C.; Sheen, G. (1988). Three Pieces from "Children's Corner" [score]. Kalmus: Miami, Fla.