The Art of French Piano Music: Debussy, Ravel, Faur, Chabrier by ProQuest


The author is a concert pianist who has recorded all of Debussy's piano works (Tall Poppies Records TP 094, TP 123, TP 164, and TP 165 [1997-2003]) and edited many of them with meticulous care and expert judgment for the Debussy Oeuvres compltes. The kinship with Asian music has been more difficult to document, but Howat makes a case for the effect of gamelan scales on Debussy's piano music that goes far beyond the usual obvious remarks of writers who point to works like Pagodes and the second movement of the String Quartet.

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									Book Reviews                                                                               789

ploring the modern concept of tonic and            The Art of French Piano Music:
dominant forms of a motive. Another of             Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Chabrier. By
these practical suggestions involves the           Roy Howat. New Haven, CT: Yale Uni-
replacement in certain situations of octa-         versity Press, 2009. [xvi, 400 p. ISBN
        ˆ      ˆ
tonic 2 and 3 with the semitone that sepa-
rates them: Scale A’s C C D E F G A B C
                                                   9780300145472. $45.] Music examples,
becomes C D E F G A B C. The result is a           illustrations, appendices, bibliography,
rotation of what Polignac referred to as the       index.
“major-minor” scale (D E F G A B C D),
which itself is a rotation of the ascending           This new book has a predecessor of sorts
melodic minor scale, here starting on G.           in French Piano Music: A Survey with Notes
The “major-minor” scale appears in the full        on its Performance, by Norman Demuth
title of Polignac’s treatise, although it is not   (London: Museum Press, 1959), in which
explored as extensively as the “chromatico-        French music for clavecin as well as the pi-
diatonic” scale. It was yet another rotation       ano from Champion and Chambonnières
of this former scale that Polignac used in         to Dutilleux and Boulez is covered in 179
one of his early works mentioned above,            small-sized pages. By narrowing his histori-
and one he continued to explore in later           cal focus, Roy Howat covers the belle époque
works, sometimes in counterpoint with the          of French piano music in vastly greater
octatonic scale.                                   depth and wider scope. The author is a
   It is difficult to find fault with any aspect     concert pianist who has recorded all of
of Kahan’s study, although there are a few         Debussy’s piano works (Tall Poppies
points to note: her interpretation of              Records TP 094, TP 123, TP 164, and TP
Polignac’s modulating octatonic cadences           165 [1997–2003]) and edited many of
may overreach with its reference to a quote        them with meticulous care and expert judg-
from Henri Reber (p. 187; the Reber work           ment for the Debussy Oeuvres complètes. He
is his Traité d’harmonie [Paris: Colombier,        is also an excellent writer whose prose vi-
E. Gallet, 1862]); the remark that “one            brates with life on the page even while
senses Polignac’s frustration with the limita-     feasting the reader with an abundance of
tions of the octatonic collection” (p. 243) is     historical information and astute technical
undercut by the surfeit of other examples          analysis. Those who know the increasingly
that seem to revel in sequential rotations         rich literature on Debussy published in
by minor third; and the “uncanny parallel”         recent years will already know Howat’s
(p. 122) between the Rimsky school’s asso-         Debussy in Proportion (Cambridge: Cam-
ciation between the octatonic and the su-          bridge University Press, 1983), a valuable
pernatural and Polignac’s association be-          study of Debussy’s idiosyncratic approaches
tween this scale and the Oriental/Semitic          to form, in which the Golden Section is
might best be expressed by their shared            shown to be an important measurement.
interest in Leit-harmony. But in the end,             The new book relates the varied art of its
these and other similar points are but             four composers to each other and within
minor quibbles. Kahan has found in Polig-          their historic
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